AGRICULTURE

Buena Vista County hit with third bird flu outbreak. It's Iowa's sixth report of the deadly disease

Donnelle Eller
Des Moines Register

Bird flu has hit another commercial turkey operation in northwest Iowa, the third outbreak in Buena Vista County and the sixth in the state since the beginning of March, the Iowa Department of Agriculture said Thursday.

The state said the facility has nearly 54,000 turkeys that are being destroyed to prevent the spread of the highly contagious disease. The virus can wipe out a flock within 48 hours.

Buena Vista County has been under a state disaster proclamation since March 6, when the first outbreak in was reported in a commercial flock of nearly 50,000 turkeys. And a week ago,the state said the deadly disease hit an egg-laying operation with 5.3 million hens.

The disaster proclamation enables the state agriculture department and other agencies to help track, monitor and contain the disease. Officials are testing seven flocks in a six-mile area around the infected site, and monitoring 14 others, said Chloe Carson, the  department's spokeswoman.

A third outbreak of avian influenza been reported in Buena Vista County, the Iowa Department of Agriculture reported. On Wednesday, nearly 54,000 turkeys were infected; on March 17, 5.3 million laying hens; and on March 6, nearly 50,000 turkeys.

Iowa has struggled with avian influenza outbreaks in backyard flocks in Pottawattamie and Warren counties, and at a Taylor County operation with about 916,000 pullets, or young laying hens.

On Wednesday, the agriculture department canceled all live bird competitions and exhibits at county fairs and the Iowa State Fair. The agency said it was prohibiting live bird sales at auctions, markets, swap meets and exotic sales.

State officials believe wild birds are infecting domestic poultry with highly pathogenic avian influenza. Iowa is part of the Mississippi flyway, a migration route for millions of birds each year.

More:Iowa agriculture department shuts down bird contests at fairs to prevent bird flu spread

State and federal agencies said none of the birds nor any poultry products from flocks where avian influenza is detected will reach U.S. food supplies. No human cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza have been detected in the United States.

“This is a difficult time for poultry producers as HPAI (highly pathogen avian influenza) continues to impact farms across Iowa and the United States,” Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said in a statement.

Bird flu toll mounting nationally

Nationally, 17 states have reported outbreaks of bird flu among commercial or backyard flocks, with about 14 million birds destroyed to prevent the virus' spread, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Thursday.

Iowa leads the nation in egg production, with 55 million laying hens producing 16 billion eggs annually, and it ranks seventh nationally for turkey production, raising 12 million birds a year. 

More:Fifth Iowa outbreak of bird flu confirmed in a backyard Warren County flock

A 2015 outbreak led to the destruction of 32.7 million laying hens, turkeys and other birds in Iowa. That was about two-thirds of the 50.5 million that were destroyed nationally.

Officials urge flock owners to prevent contact between their birds and wild birds and to immediately report sick birds or unusual deaths.

Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at deller@registermedia.com or 515-284-8457.