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Production Model Changes Could Prevent Bird Flu Outbreaks

An expert on avian influenza says it was just a matter of time that the disease would spread. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr.
An expert on avian influenza says it was just a matter of time that the disease would spread. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr.
June 15, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa – The outbreak of avian influenza that has decimated hundreds of turkey and chicken operations in Iowa and more than a dozen other states was a surprise to many, but one expert says that it was destined to happen.

Rob Wallace has worked with the United Nations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on avian influenza. He says the production model in the commercial poultry industry is a prime target for these types of outbreaks and must be changed to take into account that the birds grown are embedded into an ecology.

"When you organize mono-cultures of poultry, 50,000 birds in a barn, that is all just food for influenza,” he points out. “And if you develop diverse strains and stock of birds, that will provide the immunological diversity necessary to resist any pathogen that comes through."

Wallace says another key to preventing such outbreaks is through the restoration of wetlands, which would help keep infected wild birds from intermingling with commercial poultry flocks.

Thus far, there have been more than 70 cases of bird flu in Iowa, leading to the loss of about 30 million chickens and turkeys.

While the number of new cases of avian influenza appears to be waning, Wallace says the disease is cyclical in nature so he expects to see an increase again in the fall and winter.

He also notes that there is a possible danger to human health, as the CDC recently warned.

"Now I'm not saying it's going to happen because there are plenty of avian influenzas that have emerged and that have not gone to going to human to human,” he states. “However, there are many examples in which that has indeed happened, even within the last ten years."



John Michaelson, Public News Service - IA