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:

  • A two part interview on the history of the Turkey: Part I | Part II
  • The Feast (A Thanksgiving Day Story)
  • The Domestic Turkey and the First Thanksgiving
  • __________
    Photo from here.

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    I love turkey and when I heard about this, I was moved as it directly affects me. It would be horrible for anyone to be infected by some sort of virus from turkey or chicken at that. Has research been done to find out weather or not this type of bird flu affects humans and if so, how badly?
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    It is very rare for this strain of influenza to jump to humans. It is not considered a very likely possibility at all.

    This hasn't been mentioned in Michigan at all (at least not in my section of Michigan).
    The big news has been the "dog flu" epidemic that, so far, has danced around states near Michigan but hasn't gotten in.

    Reminds me of the other Turkey crisis that happened from 1915-1923. This April 24th is the 100th anniversary of when the GENOCIDE went into full speed.
    1.5 million Armenians were killed.
    750,000 Assyrians were killed.
    500,000 Greeks were killed.
    - and would you guess it, none of them were muslims!

    I find it insightful reading your blog. This new strain of avian influenza is it a mutation from N1H1 and Is the perhaps a vaccine for H5N2 under way to help reduce cutting down the large number of turkeys in Minnesota.

    By R.S Sitwala u1… (not verified) on 20 Apr 2015 #permalink

    I heard on NPR today that some chicken farms in WIsconsin were affected, and that the notoriously anti-science/anti-labor creep Gov. Walker declared an emergency. I felt like sending him a postcard telling him there's no proof that avian flu even exists, any more than for climate change (he's a vicious denialist).

    In outbreaks of avian flu in China, there have been isolated cases of bird-to-human transmission and one or two arguable cases of human-to-human ("H2H") transmission over the years, but all of these have involved extensive close contact and questionable sanitation. The probability of bird-to-human or H2H transmission in the US is very very low.

    The thing that scares public health scientists is the risk of a mutation in the virus that makes it easily transmissible H2H. That would of course be a paradigm case of a novel influenza that could burn through human populations like the 1917 flu. But the fact that scientists are on red alert about this risk also means that the moment any such activity is detected, it will make instant headlines.

    I'm not worrying about this situation. If something bad happens, we'll find out in time to prepare. More likely, the known measures to cull infected flocks will work as they have before, and the damage from this will be limited to the economic losses of farmers, which hopefully will be covered by insurance or by federal emergency relief.

    How sad these birds are being suffocated to death with foam. No one seems to mention the inherent cruelty in the everyday lives of animals we deem food. Vote 3 times a day with your plate, for health and kindness. Vote vegan.

    By Celeste Lamosse (not verified) on 27 Apr 2015 #permalink

    This so called "bird flu" is much bigger than anyone truly realizes. I have first hand knowledge of how this began and how it has become a cover-up to something much bigger. Right after Thanksgiving is when this whole "sickness" actually started, but the public was kept in the dark of the nature of this illness.

    By Glenna Manley (not verified) on 09 Jun 2015 #permalink