Bird Flu Confirmed at Iowa Farm – Analysis of Impact
Last week, Bird Flu was confirmed at an Iowa Farm housing more than 5.3 million chickens. With over 10 percent of the State’s egg-laying hens (in a state that produces nearly 1 in 5 eggs consumed in the country), what is at stake? Dr. Don Donahue provides insight regarding the impact.
As happens with humans, outbreaks of influenza occur among farm animals, most prominently in fowl and pigs. Disease spread is fostered by large numbers in close proximity. For us, this means venues such as schools, concert and mass transit, become breeding grounds for new infections. A large population of chickens living in masses of hundreds of thousands creates a perfect storm for influenza transmission. This generates a grave danger for agriculture on a broad scale. Left unchecked, this often fatal disease can decimate the poultry industry and, with it, the national and global food chains.
Because of the difficulty in controlling disease spread in animal populations — tens of thousands of chickens cannot be hospitalized, and immunization, if even logistically conceivable, would require development of a specific vaccine faster than is technologically possible — the solution to stopping disease spread is to eliminate the source. This involves culling the flock or herd. While this imposes a damaging cost on the impacted farm, the price is far smaller than leaving the outbreak unchecked.
But does this pose a threat to humans? In immediate terms, no.
Influenza viruses exist in the animal kingdom and among humans, but the vast majority do not move between species. When animal-to-human transmission does occur, it can lead to the virus mutating to human-to-human transmission. This is when outbreaks happen. Popular terminology often classifies a flu strain by its source reservoir, hence the terms bird, avian and swine flu. Because birds do represent a potential source of transmission to and among humans, there is value in limiting the spread of the disease when it is detected in large numbers.
The potential for a health threat to humans is not large. If anything, the greatest impact is likely to be a rise in poultry prices. This notwithstanding, a major disease outbreak on a farm with a number of birds that approaches the population of New York City is noteworthy.
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