The commercial turkey industry in Minnesota has been hit hard by the current HPAI outbreak. Could this been prevented? Is the USA prepared for large-scale outbreaks of Avian Influenza?

Does the United States have the strongest AI surveillance program in the world, as claimed on the website of USDA APHIS? If so, how come that the current outbreak was detected in Canada, weeks or even longer before the first outbreaks within the poultry population were detected just on the other side of the border in the US?

And why doesn’t the AI surveillance program include large-scale active field surveillance within the wild birds population? Why took it so long before the potential impacts associated with the introduction of HPAI viruses into wild bird populations were understood by the industry?

The current epidemiological efforts are insufficient to determine the risks of other farms getting infected, because the mechanism of infection the current flocks is still unknown. Active laboratory surveillance is not the answer either to predict future outbreaks: Massive efforts in active field-based epidemiological research under wild birds and in wetlands are needed to as part of an early warning system; hunting, fishing and other activities that take place in the wetland areas have to be banned to prevent humans to enter the HPAI infection to the farm; and all commercial turkey farms need to be completely isolated as long as the risks of outbreaks is eminent.

Compared to other poultry species, turkeys need only 1/100 of the normal virus load on contaminated materials (soil, organic materials etc.) to become infected, with lethal consequences for the birds, and enormous financial consequences for the farming industry.

The turkey industry is still completely in the dark about the current outbreak situation. The USDA APHIS active laboratory surveillance programs might be one of the best in the world, is clearly not enough under the current circumstances to determine whether a flock has become infected. Unless the efforts to collect more valid data is substantially increased, followed by rigorous epidemiological analysis and a solid risk assessment, the turkey industry in Minnesota will probably see more outbreaks to come in the near future.

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