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Health, Science & Environment

Bird flu found in several states this year, has yet to reach Ohio

Chickens stand in their cages at a farm near Stuart, Iowa, in 2009.
Charlie Neibergall
Chickens stand in their cages at a farm near Stuart, Iowa, in 2009.

State and federal agriculture officials are keeping an eye on reports of avian influenza, or bird flu, spreading across the U.S.

The disease has been found in poultry flocks in several states this year, but so far has not been detected in Ohio.

The fear is a repeat of the 2015 bird flu outbreak that killed some 50 million birds across 15 states and cost the federal government nearly $1 billion.

Ohio's state veterinarian Dr. Dennis Summers said the virus spreads among wild bird populations, particularly waterfowl, and can easily infiltrate poultry farms.

"It's as simple as getting out of your car, walking from your car into the poultry barn, and you just happen to step in bird droppings. And you walk right in there, and you've introduced the virus. It's just that simple," Summers said.

Farms that raise chickens and turkeys are urged to beef up biosecurity measures. Summers said that goes for small, backyard hobbyists as well as large commercial poultry operations.

"You know, a lot of people like to have this outdoor free-range access to their poultry," Summers said.

"Right now is not a great time for that. If you can move your birds indoors, do it. It's the best thing you can do to protect them from having contact with migratory birds."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the highly contagious bird flu poses a low risk to the public and no human infections have been found in the U.S.

"As with any influenza virus, they love to mutate and they mutate frequently and often," Summers said.

Farmers are encouraged to report unusual signs of disease or unexpected deaths to the Ohio Poultry Association (OPA) by calling 614-882-6111, or the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) by calling 614-728-6220. You can also file a report after hours by calling 888-456-3405.

More information about biosecurity practices can be found on the Ohio Department of Agriculture website.

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.