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Avian Flu Takes Big Toll on UT Turkey Farms

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Tuesday, November 8, 2022   

About 700,000 turkeys across 18 Utah farms have to be euthanized following an outbreak of the avian flu.

Bailee Woolstenhulme, public information officer with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, said the first cases were detected earlier this year, but did not start taking off until August. Woolstenhulme said about 2.2-million turkeys across the country so far have fallen victim to "bird flu."

She emphasized that Utah is one of the states with the highest number of turkey farmers. Nonetheless, there are inevitable effects on farmers and consumers.

"This is a huge impact to these farmers," Woolstenhulme said, "and the local economies where these farms are located - from the workers that work on those farms and also, the income that comes from selling the turkeys each year. This will also have a fairly big impact on consumers as well."

Woolstenhulme said the avian flu is transmitted by wild birds, which is why more cases are seen in the spring and fall, when they migrate. The deadly flu could also make getting your hands on a turkey a bit more difficult this Thanksgiving. According to the USDA, inflation has already caused the average retail price for turkey
to go up 50%, to just about $2 per pound.

Woolstenhulme said the last time the U.S. saw an avian influenza outbreak was in 2015, adding this particular strain appears to be more contagious than in the past and has a 90% mortality rate.

In 2015, most cases were spread from farm to farm, but this year the main source has been wild birds. If you do have your own flock of birds, she said be aware of your surroundings and increase your bio security.

"Making sure that they stay within enclosures and away from where they can have contact with wild birds,' Woolstenhulme said. "Making sure they don't have shared water or feed sources with the wild birds. And then being extra cautious with the clothing you wear in and out of the coop, as well as washing your hands."

While the bird flu poses serious health complications to our feathered friends, health officials confirm the risk of infecting people is low. Woolstenhulme said all the turkeys on the 18 farms in Utah are being euthanized in an effort to not only control the spread of the disease, but stop the birds from suffering, as they would if they were infected.


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