Tag Archives: H5N2

How Bad is the Minnesota Turkey Epidemic?

Unless you are living in a chicken coop, you have probably heard about the Turkey Crisis in Minnesota and surrounding upper plains/midwestern states. Every few days we hear more news: Millions of farmed turkeys are being put down in one turkey farm after another, because the farm’s turkeys are infested with the H5N2 bird flu.

I should say right away, that according to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, there is no significant risk of a turkey shortage. While it is always bad to count your chickens before they hatch, apparently this is not a big problem with the larger fowl.

See also: Avian Influenza H5N2 In The Mississippi And Pacific Flyways

The flu is probably carried to the turkeys by migratory birds. Once it is established at a turkey farm, the birds are generally put down. So far this has cost Minnesota turkey farmers millions, probably tens of millions, of dollars.

There are two reasons to be concerned about this, but it is also important to keep the epidemic in perspective.

The first reason to be concerned is, of course, because turkey farmers are taking it in the neck, a distinction usually reserved for the turkeys themselves. Anything that badly affects farmers is bad for the local or regional economy. The second reason is the small possibility that emerges any time there is a lot of bird flu activity. This, of course, is the possibility that a new version of a virus will emerge that will affect humans. The chances of that are very small, but the possible consequences are of course great, as new viruses in a population can be highly virulent. There have been no known cases of humans being affected and it is highly unlikely that this will happen.

I should also note that the turkey virus does affect chickens as well, but according to experts, less so. The virus spreads easily from turkey to turkey, but has a harder time spreading among chickens.

I checked with Lara Durben of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association to see how much H5N2 is affecting the turkeys and turkey farming here. She told me that so far about 26 farms have been affected, which is just under 5% of the total number of farms statewide (about 600). “In Minnesota, about 1.6 million birds have been destroyed because of this strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza. That compares to a total number of birds raised in Minnesota of 46 million annually – so about 3.5% of the total number of turkeys raised in our state will not enter the marketplace because they have been destroyed,” she told me.

Durben also anticipates that the number of new cases will go down shortly, as Spring passes into Summer, but possibly pick up again in the Fall. “The virus does not thrive in heat, and the spring migratory bird season will be over. However, we do assume that cases will pick up again in the fall with migratory birds heading back south and cooler weather. USDA researchers are telling us that we should expect to see this particular strain around for the next 3-5 years in all four flyways of the U.S.”

So that is good news. Less good news is that this s the first time that the US has seen H5N2, and it is highly virulent. This is the worst pathogenic avian influenza Derben has seen.

Since we are talking turkey, please have a look at these related posts:

<li>A two part interview on the history of the Turkey: <a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2014/12/02/a-partial-history-of-the-turkey-podcast/">Part I</a> | <a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2014/12/15/a-second-helping-of-turkey/">Part II</a></li>

<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2012/11/22/the-feast-a-thanksgiving-day-story/">The Feast (A Thanksgiving Day Story)</a></li>

<li><a href="http://10000birds.com/history-of-the-turkey-and-the-first-thanksgiving.htm">The Domestic Turkey and the First Thanksgiving</a></li>

Photo from here.