I feel like I'm a bit of a broken record in my last few blog posts - most have been related to the highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza (HPAI) that has hit turkey flocks in Minnesota. Since early March, HPAI has caused the deaths or the required euthanization of over 1.6 million turkeys, and the strain has also been confirmed in South Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa (along with earlier confirmations on the West Coast and in Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas).
Turkeys are not the only birds susceptible to HPAI - chickens are, too. And this is not only a problem for poultry raised commercially. We've also seen cases in Minnesota and Wisconsin in backyard chicken flocks.
This highly virulent strain of HPAI has never been seen before in the U.S., and in Minnesota alone we have teams of folks from USDA as well as state agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, Board of Animal Health, Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Health working together to stop the virus from spreading further.
My usual workload at the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association has essentially been put on hold and HPAI is pretty much all I am working on right now. Our organization is trying to make sure the communication lines stay open between farmers, poultry companies, and vendors - not only in Minnesota but in our neighboring states as well. We also looking long-term at what we need in terms of research, infrastructure and more, as USDA tells us we can expect this strain to be around for the next 3-5 years.
Fighting HPAI is truly a team effort.
That said, it is important to note there are two key messages that consumers should know and feel confident about:
The turkey products you purchase are completely safe to eat:
This is NOT a food safety issue. All flocks are tested for this virus, well before going to market. Any flocks tested positive for the virus are NOT allowed to enter the food supply.
All poultry identified with HPAI are prohibited by law from entering the marketplace.
As a reminder, all poultry and eggs should be handled properly and cooked to an internal temperature of 165° F to kill bacteria and viruses.
There is also very little human health risk:
The risk of human infection is very low. To date, the HPAI strains that have been found in the United States have not been detected in humans.
Risk of infection is limited to people in direct contact with affected birds.
I hope soon that I will be able to write a blog post about something other than avian influenza. The experts tell us that these outbreaks should slow down as the weather warms up and the migratory birds make their way to their spring/summer homes.
Until then, I have compiled a list of web links that might be helpful if you are looking for more information about HPAI - or if you are raising poultry in your backyard. If you have any questions, please feel free to respond in the comments section below and I'll do my best to find answers for you.