USDA veterinarians expect HPAI to mutate into a less potent version

This year’s outbreak of High Pathogenic Avian Influenza has taken out more than 52 million birds and the financial losses are still unknown.

Just recently, health officials in Iowa confirmed two more cases of the virus in commercial turkey flocks. So far this month, six turkey sites have been hit in the state. The U.S. outbreak began in January after a strain of the virus, previously seen in Europe, was detected in wild birds in the Carolinas.

Instead of dying out when the weather got colder, it spread, taking out more U.S. birds than the 2015 outbreak. USDA veterinarians say they fully expect the virus to mutate at some point into a less potent version.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a clear indication of how long that might be, and certainly looking to our friends in Europe who’ve been dealing with this for about a year longer than we have, it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon,” said Dr. Rosemary Sifford.

Dr. Sifford says no one really knows when it could end or mutate. There is even a chance it could mutate into a worse version, but she stresses the importance of biosecurity plans since this outbreak is primarily spread through wild birds.

“The vast majority of our introductions into domestic poultry are from interaction with a wild bird of some type. Some producers have implemented wild bird deterrent systems to try to just keep wild birds away from their property altogether, such as not having ponds and other open water sources that tend to attract wild waterfowl,” Dr. Rosemary Sifford says.

Some producers have even set up laser beam systems across their properties where wild birds typically gather. Experts say the birds think the beam is a threat and usually disperse.

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