Tuesday Talks with Dr. Patterson

May 5, 2015

Avian Influenza Update

The current avian influenza outbreak in the United States was discussed in an earlier Tuesday Talk on February 3, 2015.  This note provides an update on this outbreak. 

The outbreak began in the United States on December 19, 2014 with a case in Oregon involving a backyard poultry flock.  It then spread to other backyard flocks in Washington and Idaho.  This disease, which is endemic in wild waterfowl, then moved down the Pacific flyway to Stanislaus County, California where a commercial turkey operation was reported infected on January 23, 2015, resulting in 134,400 birds being destroyed, as required under state and federal disease control protocols.  A chicken laying hen operation in Kings County was reported as infected on February 12 and 112,900 birds were destroyed.  Since then, the disease has spread across the Northern Plains and Midwest into Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas.  As it spread, backyard poultry flocks and commercial turkey and egg laying operations have been affected.  As of May 1, there have been 114 detections and 21,644,473 birds have been destroyed (APHIS).  It is believed that the current outbreak is the largest on record in the United States, surpassing an outbreak involving about 17 million birds in the 1980s (Enoch).  

Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have been hit particularly hard by this outbreak of avian influenza.  Iowa, the leading egg producing state, has lost over 15 million birds, mostly laying hens (APHIS).  As much as one-fourth of the state’s laying hens have been affected by the disease (Enoch).  On May 1, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad declared a state of emergency (Forman-Cook).  In April, states of emergency were declared in Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Minnesota, the nation’s largest turkey producer, has lost nearly 4 million birds.

On May 4, 12 senators signed a letter addressed to the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee urging the committee to make funding for avian health programs a very high priority.  It was noted that in his budget request, President Obama requested $52 million for avian health for fiscal 2016.  This funding pays for surveillance and reporting efforts, control measures, and makes indemnity payments to producers for production lost to the disease (Brasher).

Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin lie on the Mississippi flyway.  Industry observers are concerned about migrating waterfowl bringing the disease down the flyway to the South into the top broiler producing states during the fall.  Producers in this region will need to maintain strict biosecurity protocols to prevent an outbreak in this region.  

Even at the historic levels achieved by the current avian influenza outbreak, U.S. health officials continue to stress that the probability of the avian influenza moving to humans is very low.  Furthermore, government officials continue to stress that there is no threat to the safety of U.S. food supplies from outbreak.


Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  All Findings.  U.S. Department of Agriculture.  (Accessed May 5, 2015): http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_animal_disease_information/sa_avian_health/ct_avian_influenza_disease

Brasher, Philip.  “Senators Appeal for Funding to Fight Avian Flu as Outbreak Worsens.”  AgriPulse, May 4, 2015.  (Accessed May 5, 2015): http://www.agri-pulse.com/Senators-appeal-for-avian-health-money-05042015.asp

Enoch, Daniel.  “New Bird Flu Cases Push Outbreak into Historic Territory.”  AgriPulse, May 1, 2015.  (Accessed May 5, 2015): http://www.agri-pulse.com/New-bird-flu-cases-push-outbreak-into-historic-territory-0501015.asp

Forman-Cook, Whitney.  “Iowa Declares State of Emergency to Fight Bird Flu ‘Epidemic.’”  AgriPulse, May 1, 2015.  (Access May 5, 2015): http://www.agri-pulse.com/Iowa-declares-state-of-emergency-to-fight-bird-flu-epidemic-05012015.asp

Dr. Paul Patterson is Associate Dean for Instruction for the College of Agriculture and Professor of Agricultural Economics.