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Bird flu strikes Iowa turkey flock after the state went more than two weeks without a new case

Amy Mayer
IPR file
Prior to the Iowa Department of Agriculture's announcement Thursday that highly pathogenic avian influenza hit a commercial turkey flock in Bremer County, Iowa had not seen a new bird flu case for more than two weeks.

A new case of bird flu surfaced Thursday in an Iowa commercial turkey flock, after the state hadn’t seen any new cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza for more than two weeks.

The flock of nearly 30,000 turkeys in Bremer County is being destroyed to prevent the virus from spreading. The latest bird flu case is the 17th detection in Iowa commercial and backyard flocks this year.

It’s the first confirmed case of bird flu in Iowa since April 5, when the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship announced bird flu had struck a commercial flock of about 46,000 turkeys in Hardin County.

“We were all very much hoping that we were done for the year,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig in an interview with Iowa Public Radio Thursday, “so it's unfortunate that we're back at it again. But from an operational standpoint, certainly we have remained focused. We’ve known that this is going to continue to be a threat through the spring.”

Naig said it’s “very clear” that wild birds on their migration north are introducing the virus into commercial and backyard flocks. Wild waterfowl, like ducks and geese, can carry the virus and shed it through their saliva or excrement.

“As we move through the spring, that threat will diminish,” Naig said.

Iowa and Minnesota were the hardest hit states during the bird flu outbreak of December 2014-June 2015. During that outbreak, more than 50 million chickens and turkeys died or were killed to stop the disease from spreading. More than 32 million of the birds impacted were in Iowa.

Naig said Iowa producers have learned from that outbreak by enhancing their biosecurity measures, the precautions they take to prevent germs and diseases from getting into their barns. The difference between now and the bird flu outbreak seven years ago, Naig said, is there isn’t farm to farm spread of the virus this time around.

“I think, and we're all hoping that what that means is that you won't see the length of the outbreak be quite as long,” Naig said, “because you won't have it moving from farm to farm.”

Iowa’s first case of bird flu this year was confirmed March 1, a month earlier than it surfaced in 2015. More than 13.3 million birds across 15 commercial and two backyard flocks have died or been killed to stop the spread. During the 2015 outbreak, bird flu struck 71 commercial premises and six backyard flocks between April and June in the state.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture canceled live poultry exhibitions for 30 days in late March. Naig said the latest bird flu case resets the 30-day clock. Officials plan to allow poultry events again once 30 days have passed without a new confirmed case of bird flu.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.