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Poultry industry hoping that avian flu stays away

Chickens on a Farm
Posted at 7:10 PM, Apr 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-29 20:11:07-04

CENTRAL TEXAS — A strain of avian flu continues to spread through parts of the country, infecting a wider range of species than the outbreak in 2015.

The only cases of avian flu here in Texas were found at an Erath County game bird ranch earlier in April. The poultry industry aims to keep it that way.

"Doesn't matter if you have four chickens in your backyard, or if you're a large commercial farm operation. Your birds are just as vulnerable to it," said Tracy Tomascik, associate director of commodity and regulatory activities with the Texas Farm Bureau.

The current strain began in Europe in 2020. Avian flu is highly transmissible between birds, and already caused an outbreak in the Midwest. Millions of chickens, mostly in commercial egg-laying operations, were put down. With warmer weather coming, the hope is the flu will stay clear of Texas.

"Typically it's brought by the migrating waterfowl," said Dr. Gregory Archer, associate professor and extension specialist with Texas A&M. "So as they were kind of coming down, that's why they brought it. When it started getting hot here, they don't come as far south. They stay a little more north."

"That's one of the positive things about Texas, is when it gets warmer, this disease, in particular, has a hard time maintaining itself," said Tomascik.

But it never hurts to take precautions. Farmers are advised to limit any interactions between their flocks and wild birds.

"We're not really sure how much it is in like songbirds, but we assume it's possible that they're carrying it as well to the waterfowl," said Archer. "So the more birds you're bringing to your property, the more chance you're infecting poultry."

Though dangerous for birds, transmission to humans is rare. The only case so far was reported in Colorado, with the patient having mild symptoms. The CDC states that the current risk to human health from avian flu is low.

"People who are working with bird flocks that may be infected, they actually have to take some precautions, but for the general public who's not around a lot of birds in close contact, then there's really not much worry at this point," said Dr. Greg Newman with Hillcrest Urgent Care.

With the regional nature of the outbreak, Texas has managed to avoid most of the ripple effects. Outside of supply chain issues, prices of eggs and meat have gone up in the Midwest due to the deaths of millions of chickens. In the Lone Star State, local producers have been able to make up the difference.