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US Avian Flu Outbreak Feared by Poultry Industry as Fall Migration Looms

It has been more than two months since the last report of avian influenza was reported in the United States, but there is concern for a renewed outbreak in the U.S. as birds begin to migrate.

More than 48 million birds have been affected from the outbreak of a highly pathogenic avian influenza, mostly in Iowa, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The disease has been found in wild birds, as well as in a few backyard and commercial poultry flocks.

The virus took a significant toll on the U.S. poultry industry, said Dr. John Glisson of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, the world's largest and most active poultry organization.

"We lost about 40 million layers to the disease," Glisson said. "A large portion of those birds produced eggs used to make what we call liquid egg products which go into the baking industry."

It caused egg prices to increase at the grocery stores. Turkey prices also jumped after 10 million turkeys were affected by the influenza.

The U.S. has the largest poultry industry in the world, Glisson said. It is No. 1 for turkey and chicken meat and No. 2 behind China for eggs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to people from the infections to be low, according to the Agriculture Department. No human cases of the H5N2 viruses have been detected in the U.S., Canada or internationally.

The outbreak occurred on the migratory bird flight paths of the Pacific, Central and Mississippi flyways.

"Historically, the Eastern Flyway has not been spared by avian flu outbreaks, and there is no reason to expect that the disease won't show up here this time. We have had big avian influenza outbreaks in the past," Penn State University Professor of Wildlife Resources Margaret Brittingham said in a news release.

"The difference this time seems to be that this strain of the disease is so pathogenic," she said.

Ducks and geese may carry the virus.

"Even birds like tundra swans that breed up in the Arctic migrate down through Wisconsin, which already has this disease, and then they turn eastward and go straight across Pennsylvania," Brittingham said. "We have about 90 percent of the population of tundra swans migrating through Pennsylvania on their way to the Chesapeake Bay, which is a big wintering area."

Weather plays a dual role: one, the virus isn't as hardy in warmer weather, and two, duck and geese migration starts as the weather turns cooler.

Temperatures may average below normal in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley and closer to normal east of the Appalachians to the East Coast, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jack Boston said. The full AccuWeather fall forecast will be released during mid-August.

"September should be closer to normal temperature-wise in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley with a warmer-than-normal September east of the Appalachians to the East Coast," Boston said.

The poultry industry along with state and federal governments are better prepared for a renewed outbreak this fall and spring, Glisson said.

"There will be more sampling of wild birds this fall. Hopefully, they won't be spreading the virus as they come back," he said.