Revelations that two strains of avian flu were detected last week in Oregon and Washington has poultry farmers and some nations around the world on edge. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the virus poses little risk to human populations. But what does it mean for the chicken and turkey industry, and how does it affect the average consumer? Here's what is known so far:
"[It] is thought that the biggest change in AI epidemiology resulting from climate change will be brought about by changes in the distribution, composition and migration behaviour of wild bird populations," the team said.
Brazil, which lies south of the common flyways of migrating waterfowl, has managed to escape H5N1 infections. As a result of this, some analysts suggest that Brazil might gain economically as it strengthens its poultry export markets. It's been taking steps since 2013 to bolster its protections against imported products that may carry the virus, as well.
Fortunately for U.S. farmers, infections have only been found in backyard flocks in Oregon and one duck in Washington state. But the impact is still being felt by the U.S. poultry market, which has all or portions of its commerce banned by at least seven nations.
One thing for sure is that avian influenza isn't going away any time too soon. State agencies in Alaska and Delaware have issued statements to reassure and advise residents of any potential risks. Delaware's Department of Agriculture is cautioning poultry farmers to "be vigilant" and use biosecurity procedures that would limit any unexpected infections. Alaska has taken steps to reassure hunters that there is minimal chance of the infections reaching Alaska waterfowl -- and its popular waterfowl hunting season, which has just opened.
"While no public health concerns have been associated with either H5N2 or H5N8 avian influenza strains, these cases serve as reminders that wildlife can carry pathogens of many kinds," Alaska Department of Fish and Game has advised.
If there is a silver lining associated with these events, say researchers, it is that while climate change may affect bird migration patterns -- and by extension the global agriculture markets -- it isn't thought to create new strains or virulent outbreaks of H5N1.
"[These] observations support the idea that climate change will have very little effect on HPAI epidemiology," said Gilbert.
That's awfully good to know.
Image credit: Pandiyan V
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.