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As bird flu wanes, poultry exhibitions on track to resume for county fairs

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Posted at 10:48 AM, May 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-30 11:48:53-04

It’s been nearly a month since the last confirmed case of highly transmissible avian influenza in Iowa, which means bird exhibitions are about to resume.

“We definitely don’t want to say never at this point, but we hope we are nearing the end of the outbreak,” said Chloe Carson, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

The department had halted the exhibitions in March to help prevent the spread of the virus, with the caveat that those showings could resume 30 days after the state’s final virus confirmation.

The last detection of the virus in Iowa was in a backyard flock of 46 birds in Bremer County on May 2. If there are no more confirmations of the virus, the showing of poultry at county fair competitions is poised to proceed as normal.

Allamakee, Wapello and Worth counties have the earliest fair competitions in mid June, according to the Association of Iowa Fairs. The rest follow, leading to the Iowa State Fair in August.

Iowa accounts for more than a third of the nation’s bird flu deaths this year at about 13.4 million. The virus is unlikely to infect humans, but it is fatal to domestic poultry. When at least one bird is sickened by the disease, the rest of its flock is culled. The majority of Iowa’s casualties came from two flocks with more than 5 million egg-laying chickens apiece. Iowa is the United States’ largest egg producer.

Still, Iowa has fared better than the bird flu outbreak of 2015, when more than 30 million Iowa birds were culled. That accounted for about two-thirds of the total casualties in the United States, and fair exhibitions were canceled. The meat and eggs of infected birds are destroyed.

The state has worked to limit flock-to-flock transmissions of the virus — a major contributor to the 2015 outbreak — and none have happened this year in Iowa, Carson said.

The total number of detections of the virus have diminished in May after peaking in April, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And backyard flocks have accounted for the vast majority of detections in May, which means fewer birds were affected.

A comparison: In March there were 87 affected flocks with a total of about 21 million birds. In May, as of Sunday, there have also been 87 affected flocks, but they held less than 1 million birds.

Read more: Bird flu isn’t as bad this year because of Iowa’s response, ag officials say

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: info@iowacapitaldispatch.com. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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