Report: Bird flu likely airborne, but farms could be doing more to prevent it


How has the bird flu been able to spread so rapidly to over a hundred Minnesota poultry farms and kill nearly nine million chickens and turkeys?

The answer could be in the air.

A preliminary U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report on what's causing the widespread transmission of H5N2 indicates there are "likely several ways" the virus could be traveling, but perhaps the most troubling possibility is that it can become airborne and ride the wind from one farm to another, according to a news release.

Testing conducted at outbreak sites confirmed there was "viable virus" present in the air both inside and immediately outside stricken farms, up to 1,000 meters away (though it is less potent from a longer distance).

"The results obtained to date indicate that (H5N2) can be aerosolized from infected flocks and remain airborne," the report says.

Investigators found evidence that a certain "cluster" of farms was infected by identical viruses, suggesting "possible transmission among those farms."

Additionally, environmental analyses suggested a relationship between sustained high winds (at least 25 miles per hour for two or more days) and an increase in the number of affected poultry operations.

While the investigation does support earlier theories that wild birds may be responsible for introducing the virus to commercial flocks, the detection of H5N2 in the air and the wind pattern data may shed some light on how it is seemingly spreading among different flocks.

At the latest count, just over 9 million birds have been affected by bird flu in Minnesota, on 108 farms across 23 counties, according to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.

Farm security not up to scratch

A summary of the report states that while an explanation of H5N2's transmission is hard to pin down, a "likely cause" is the failure of some poultry operations to take effective biosecurity measures.

Investigators observed "sharing of equipment between an infected and noninfected farm," employees moving between farms, a lack of cleaning and disinfecting of vehicles that also move between farms, and "reports of rodents or small wild birds inside poultry houses."

Still, officials point out that "there is not substantial or significant enough evidence to point to a specific pathway or pathways for the current spread of the virus."

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the USDA agency that conducted the investigation, says it will provide regular updates to the report as testing continues.

H5N2 has killed some 49 million birds nationwide, NBC News reports.

Next Up

One-dollar bill, cash, money

Former MN bank CEO sentenced to 18 months in prison for falsifying records

Robert Hager was the CEO of Border State Bank in Northern Minnesota.


As golf season approaches, book your round now at Dacotah Ridge GC

The stunning course is designed by world-renowned architect Rees Jones.

mark kosloski - chisago county jail

Former volleyball coach charged with sexually assaulting a player

Mark Kosloski was a coach at North Lakes Academy for six years, resigning in February for personal reasons.

Screen Shot 2019-02-23 at 8.49.07 AM

Men fatally shot by police in Wadena County were brothers

The BCA also released the names of the two officers who discharged their firearms.

Christian Brown (left) and Byron Jackson (right)

Charges: Hutchinson man shot man in the head while trying to buy cocaine

The other suspect is accused of punching a man to the ground, breaking his arm and dislocating his shoulder.


Teenage driver hits woman walking with kids in Woodbury

The woman and one child were taken to the hospital, the other child wasn't hurt.

Kyle Rudolph

Rudolph sends farewell to Vikings fans in Players Tribune piece

"Every season I played here, every game I played here — you all believed."

Megan Ryan

Star Tribune's Megan Ryan named new Twins beat reporter

Ryan replaces LaVelle E. Neal who is now in a columnist role.

minnetonka MME

Minnetonka in spotlight after teacher threatened for discussing Black trans woman

Parents and community members are calling on the district to do better and will hold a march prior to the school board meeting on Thursday.

Richard Pitino

Talk grows that this season will be Pitino's last at Gophers

A report says Pitino's tenure could be "down to his final games."