Expert: Bird flu just a matter of time

As several states in the Midwest deal with the outbreak of avian influenza, an expert on the subject says it was only a matter of time before the disease would spread.

COLUMBUS – The outbreak of avian influenza in several Midwestern states has decimated hundreds of turkey and chicken operations. While the outbreak was a surprise to many in the region, one expert says it was destined to happen.

Robert Wallace, a former consultant for the United Nations and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on avian influenza, says the production model in the commercial poultry industry is a prime target for outbreaks – and he says it must be changed to take into account that the birds grown there are embedded into an ecology.

“When you organize mono-cultures of poultry with 50,000 birds in a barn, that is all just food for influenza,” he says. “If you develop diverse strains and stock of birds, that will provide the immunological diversity necessary to resist any pathogen that comes through.”

Wallace says another key to preventing such outbreaks is through the restoration of wetlands, which would help keep infected wild birds from intermingling with commercial poultry flocks.

While the number of new cases of avian influenza appears to be waning, Wallace says the disease is cyclical in nature and he expects to see an increase again in the fall and winter. Wallace also notes there is a possible danger to human health, as the CDC recently warned.

“I’m not saying it’s going to happen because there are plenty of avian influenzas that have emerged and have not gone to going to human to human,” he says. “However, there are examples in which that has indeed happened, even within the last 10 years.”

There are no confirmed cases of avian flu in Ohio, but state leaders have taken the preventive step of banning all live bird exhibitions through the rest of the year.

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