Deadly bird flu back in Wisconsin

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Bird flu has returned to Midwest earlier than authorities expected after a lull of several months, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health said Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022, The highly pathogenic disease was detected in a commercial turkey flock in Meeker County of western Minnesota after the farm reported an increase in mortality last weekend. Tests confirmed the disease Tuesday evening. The flock was euthanized to stop the spread.  (AP Photo/Janet Hostetter, File)

MADISON – Bird flu has returned to the Midwest earlier than authorities expected after a lull of several months, with the highly pathogenic disease being detected in a backyard flock in Washington County. 

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) says this is Wisconsin’s first confirmed case of HPAI in a domestic flock since May..

has identified a case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in a backyard flock in Washington County. Two commercial turkey flocks in western Minnesota and a hobby flock in Indiana also confirmed cases. 

The last case of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Wisconsin was discovered in a non-commercial flock of 61 birds in Bayfield County on May 20. As of Sept. 1, 2022, DATCP reported that 23 flocks in 15 counties had confirmed HPAI infections. The majority of flocks impacted have been non-commercial owners.

The largest depopulation of birds occurred at a commercial flock in Jefferson County in March 2022, where 2,757,767 laying hens had to be destroyed. State officials stated that all infected flocks are depopulated to prevent spread of the disease.

Contractors prepare the site on a 40-acre parcel of land in the town of Palmyra last spring used to compost millions of chicken carcasses from a Jefferson County poultry operation hit by the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus. Long windrows of compost material will encase the birds as they decompose, eradicating the virus, according to USDA standards of safe disposal.

Kevin Hoffman, a spokesperson for DATCP says there have been recent detections among wild birds in Wisconsin.

"The fall and winter could be a critical time for virus transmission, so DATCP urges all poultry owners to implement strong biosecurity measures to protect their birds from the disease," Hoffman said.

Neighboring states

The disease was detected after a farm in Meeker County reported an increase in mortality last weekend, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health said. The flock was euthanized to stop the spread. The board later reported that a second flock in the county tested positive Tuesday evening.

They were the first detections of avian influenza in Minnesota since May 31, when a backyard flock was struck in Becker County. Indiana's case was its first since a backyard flock there tested positive June 8, which had been the last detection in the Midwest before this week.

However, there have been several detections in western states in July and August, including California, where a half-dozen commercial farms have had to kill more than 425,000 chickens and turkeys since last week. There have also been cases in Washington, Oregon and Utah, plus a few in some eastern states.

"While the timing of this detection is a bit sooner than we anticipated, we have been preparing for a resurgence of the avian influenza we dealt with this spring," said Dr. Shauna Voss, the board's senior veterinarian. "HPAI is here and biosecurity is the first line of defense to protect your birds."

The Indiana State Board of Animal Health reported that a small hobby flock of chickens, ducks and geese in northern Indiana's Elkhart County tested presumptively positive on Tuesday, though final confirmation from a federal lab was pending.

Across the country, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 414 flocks in 39 states have been affected since February, costing producers over 40 million birds, mostly commercial turkeys and chickens. The disease has struck 81 Minnesota flocks this year, requiring the killing of nearly 2.7 million birds.

Impacts and prevention

This year's outbreak contributed to a spike in egg and meat prices, and killed an alarming number of bald eagles and other wild birds. It also affected some zoos. It appeared to be waning in June, but officials warned then that another surge could take hold this fall.

The disease is typically carried by migrating birds. It only occasionally affects humans, such as farm workers, and the USDA keeps poultry from infected flocks out of the food supply. A widespread outbreak in 2015 killed 50 million birds across 15 states and cost the federal government nearly $1 billion.

Wisconsin officials say that fall and winter could be a critical time for virus transmission, and urges all poultry owners to implement strong biosecurity measures to protect their birds from the disease.

HPAI viruses are highly contagious and often fatal to domestic poultry. The disease can be spread by contact with infected birds, equipment, or clothing worn by anyone working with the animals. Signs of HPAI include:

  • Sudden death without clinical signs
  • Lack of energy or appetite
  • Decrease in egg production; soft, misshapen eggs
  • Purple discoloration of wattles, comb, and legs
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Runny nose, coughing, sneezing
  • Stumbling or falling down
  • Diarrhea

DATCP reminds Wisconsin poultry owners to register their premises. State law requires that all livestock owners register where their animals are kept. Registration helps animal health officials communicate with flock owners during disease outbreaks.

To report increased mortality or signs of illness among domestic birds, contact DATCP at (608) 224-4872 (business hours) or (800) 943-0003 (after hours and weekends). For updates on how the virus is affecting domestic birds in Wisconsin, visit DATCP's HPAI webpage.​

Associated Press contributed to this report