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The bird flu is back: Will it affect Utah operations?

By Aubree Thomas

Utah poultry farmers are working to prevent the spread of a new case of bird flu in the wake of the deaths of 400,000 chickens and turkeys in Indiana.

The outbreak, which was confirmed on Jan. 15, has led to the depopulation of 10 different poultry farms in the Hoosier state. But while Utah and Indiana are separate by more than four states and the Continental Divide, there is still plenty of cause for concern for Utah producers.

This strain of avian flu, H7N8, is unique. Until now, it has never been present in the United States.

“It has never been seen before,” said Utah field veterinarian Dr. Chris Crnich. “It’s not the same strain that affected the nearly 50 million animals that were lost last year in the central U.S.”

While H7N8 hasn’t been detected on any other Indiana farms, Utah poultry producers are still taking necessary precautions because of the contagious nature of the virus.

“Utah producers will always be concerned and will be on high biosecurity alert, but not necessarily because of the outbreak in Indiana. Rather they will be concerned because of the migration of waterfowl in and through Utah,” Crnich said.

Utah is a migratory state for wild birds. This is considered a problem because the H7N8 virus is commonly found in wild birds and water fowl. It doesn’t affect them like it does domestic poultry, but they can still transmit the virus to any bird that they come in contact with.

Utah State agriculture extension agent Clark Israelsen said there are several biosecurity measures that Utah poultry producers can put in place to protect their operations.

“The first priority for any operation is to prevent their birds from co-mingling with other birds, both wild and domestic,” he said. “Sanitizing all equipment is extremely important as well. Bird owners like to share supplies and that is something they need to be very careful with.”

There is no evidence that suggests that H7N8 virus can harm humans. However, the Center for Disease control is still taking precautions.

“The CDC is concerned,” Crnich said, “they are still watching and observing to make sure.”

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-mdl