You may remember hearing about the dangers of the avian flu—a.k.a. H5N1—when it infiltrated mainstream news in 2005-2007 due to widespread outbreaks that rocked the poultry industries in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The virus spreads quickly in industrial agricultural environments but can also be contracted to and from wild bird populations, with high transmission and fatality rates. A 2007 outbreak at the Bernard Matthews Factory Farm in England resulted in a cull—a voluntary killing to prevent spreading of the disease—of about 159,000 of turkeys. This number sounds staggering—imagine entire rooms of birds gassed to death as a preventative measure—until you hear today's news that some 5 million chickens in Iowa are about to have the same fate.
Yesterday, the US Department of Agriculture confirmed that an Osceola County poultry farm has a confirmed outbreak of the avian flu—this strain being H5N2—and that the mass cull will need to be performed in order to contain the virus. Bill Northey, Iowa's secretary of agriculture, tells the Des Moines Register, "When there's an outbreak like this, you have to make sure the disease doesn't leave." (Iowa produces the most eggs of any state in the US.)
An additional 27,000 turkeys in Buena Vista Country, about an hour and a half away, were euthanized last week after the same virus was discovered in their flock. Although the culls may seem extreme, the virus is so deadly to birds that it can eradicate an entire flock of thousands or even millions within just 48 hours.
So how does the flu get from farm to farm, even with these mass euthanizations? Experts believe that it's all in the shit, literally: The droppings from migratory birds who land at one farm and contract it can then make their way to other facilities miles away.
The Centers for Disease Control and Iowa Department of Health note in an official statement that the likelihood of transmission to humans is very low–especially to those who have little or no contact with wild birds or poultry. Although the CDC and IDH did not name the specific farm affected, [multiple sources confirm](The%20infected Iowa birds were being raised near Harris, Iowa, by Sunrise Farms, an affiliate of Sonstegard Foods Company, the company said. Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/a-lethal-strain-of-bird-flu-has-struck-an-iowa-chicken-farm-with-millions-of-hens-2015-4#ixzz3Xyg5RB7E) that the afflicted egg farm is Sunrise Farms, which markets liquid egg products for baking and owns a full 10 percent of Iowa's egg-laying hens. Business Insider notes that for unclear reasons, the USDA and the company are offering contrasting figures in terms of how many birds will be destroyed in the cull: the USDA states that 5.3 million will be euthanized, but Sunrise Farms only claims to have 3.8 million chickens on site.
Although only about 650 cases of bird flu in humans have been reported worldwide since 2003, there was a period when many experts were convinced that the virus could become a worldwide pandemic with the capacity to kill hundreds of millions of civilians. At its peak in 2007, 79 people died from the illness. But it ever became the global catastrophe that many feared. Regardless, many countries stockpiled vaccines and held their breath.
Even with the recent domestic outbreaks, there's no cause for panic, but maybe cause to pour a little liquid egg out for our fallen fowl.