On Alert: Will bird flu see autumn return with wild bird migration?


The skies are filling with wild birds on the wing, and the state's turkey producers, agriculture advisers and public health officials are wondering if their trip south will lead to a reappearance of avian influenza.

Those birds, the Star Tribune notes, are believed to be the source of the bird flu that took a high toll on Minnesota poultry producers last spring.

The outbreak claimed 5 million turkeys in Minnesota, striking 108 farms in the state; 103 of them were turkey operations and five of them were chicken farms.

It's thought that avian flu is spread by waterfowl who carry the pathogen but don’t get sick from it. The outbreak began as those birds migrated north last spring.

Warm weather is thought to kill the bug. But bird health experts worry the flu could resurface as waterfowl migrate south and temperatures fall.

The DNR has stepped up its surveillance, monitoring waterfowl for signs of bird flu by collecting 3,100 fecal samples. The DNR has also collected samples from the ducks that hunters have taken.

Rep. Joe Schomacker, a Republican who represents the Luverne area, wrote for AgWeek that the collaboration between all affected parties in the spring led him to a better understanding of how we can respond to bird flu outbreaks.

"There’s always the expectation we may face this again, so it’s important to plan ahead, figure out what went right and wrong in this situation, and move forward," he wrote.

WCCO notes turkey and egg prices remain at higher levels following the spring outbreak. Urner Barry, which tracks commodity prices, charts wholesale egg prices as 42 percent higher than a year ago, and wholesale turkey breasts are also up 42 percent.

Turkey production following the spring outbreak are not expected to be back to normal until next spring, and the egg industry will take even longer to catch up.

Scientists continue their work to find a bird flu vaccine, but none is expected to be ready this fall.

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