Ag weekly: An update on avian influenza

Avian influenza update
Published: May. 10, 2023 at 6:46 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - For more than a year the U.S. has been battling its biggest outbreak of avian influenza.

It led to poultry and egg shortages for a while, but now scientists are running some new tests.

A year ago, we talked with poultry farmer Matt Martin with M&M Eggs in Massena.

“Unfortunately, right now there is an outbreak on the East Coast of high pathogenic avian influenza,” he said then.

The disease is spread by migratory birds like geese and ducks. All it takes is one dropping to infect and wipe out an entire flock, because even before the illness kills the birds, they have to be put down so they don’t further spread the disease.

Over the past year, the USDA reports 59 million birds have been killed across the nation.

Luckily, scientists are now testing new vaccines that could prevent avian influenza.

One method under experiment uses chemical or thermal inactivation which destroy the virus’ ability to affect the bird’s immune system.

This is big, because the avian influenza — much like the flu that humans get — is constantly evolving strains, so vaccines for particular strains don’t really work in the grand scheme of things. The irradiation method would tackle all strains.

It’s promising research, but there are still kinks to iron out. Vaccinated birds can still pass the disease to unvaccinated birds, so it’s not a perfect solution, but it is progress.