Avian flu is no longer a seasonal problem but has become a year-round issue, according to animal and disease experts around the world. More than 20 farmers and experts from four different continents have warned that the recent record-breaking outbreaks will not stop soon on poultry farms. Farmers must view avian flu as a year-long threat and not only take prevention measures during the spring movement seasons for wild birds. The virus outbreaks have continued during the summer heat and winter cold in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
The disease killed tens of millions of chickens last year, causing egg prices to reach a record high. This has become especially damaging to those who use eggs as a primary source of protein during a time of worldwide economic problems. Wild birds are mainly responsible for spreading the virus, with waterfowl like ducks being able to carry the disease without dying and passing it to poultry through contaminated waste, saliva, and other means.
Farmers are struggling to protect their birds, and even their best efforts are falling short. In the US, Rose Acre Farms, the country’s second-largest egg producer, lost around 1.5 million chickens at a Guthrie County, Iowa production farm last year, despite anyone entering barns being required to shower first to remove any sign of the virus. A company farm in Weld County, Colorado, was infected twice within about six months, killing more than 3 million chickens. The CEO, Marcus Rust, thinks the wind blew the virus in from nearby fields where geese left their waste.
Countries such as the US, Britain, France, and Japan are among those that have suffered record losses of poultry over the past year, leaving some farmers feeling helpless. Shigeo Inaba, who raises chickens for meat in Ibaraki near Tokyo, said, “avian flu is occurring even in a new poultry farm with modern equipment and no windows, so all we could do now is ask God to avoid an outbreak.”
The virus is usually deadly to poultry, and entire groups of birds are killed when even one bird tests positive. Vaccinations are not a straightforward solution, as they may reduce but not eliminate the threat from the virus, making it harder to detect its presence among the birds. Still, Mexico and the European Union are among those vaccinating or considering shots.
Wild birds have spread the disease further and wider around the world than ever before, likely carrying record amounts of the virus, said Gregorio Torres, the head of the science department at the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health. The virus has changed from previous outbreaks to a form that is probably more easily spread, he told Reuters.
“The disease is here to stay at least in the short term,” Torres said.
While the virus can infect people, usually those who have contact with infected birds, the World Health Organization says the risk to humans remains low.