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Iowa Farm To Kill 5 Million Chickens In Effort To Contain Avian Flu

A farm in Iowa plans to slaughter more than five million chickens in response to an outbreak of bird flu. Charlie Neibergall/AP hide caption

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Charlie Neibergall/AP

A farm in Iowa plans to slaughter more than five million chickens in response to an outbreak of bird flu.

Charlie Neibergall/AP

A farm in Iowa is going to destroy more than five million of its chickens in an attempt to curb the spread of the highly infectious avian flu.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the H5N2 avian influenza outbreak Monday, adding that the agency says that there is little chance that humans could become infected. According to the department's press release:

"The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Iowa Department of Public Health consider the risk to people from these HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) H5 infections in wild birds, backyard flocks and commercial poultry, to be low. No human infections with the virus have ever been detected."

(Cases of a different avian flu strain — H5N1 — have been reported in people. The World Health Organization has reported more than 700 cases of human infection since 2003. Most of the cases occurred in Asia.)

NPR's Dan Charles reports today that the poultry industry is concerned about the spread of the virus, which moves quickly between flocks.

"It showed up five months ago and ever since the American poultry industry has been on edge. Holding its breath.

They tried everything to keep it out. But one after the other, flocks have become infected.

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Iowa is the country's top egg-producing state. Nearly one in five eggs consumed in the United States comes from Iowa.

In response to the outbreak, the USDA is working with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to euthanize the chickens.

"It's one of the bigger farms in the state," said Bill Northey, Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture, according to The Des Moines Register. "But when there's an outbreak like this, you have to make sure the disease doesn't leave."

The USDA did not identify the farm, but did say it was located in Osceola County. Sunrise Farms is the only large egg-laying farm in the county.

Afterward, the agencies will disinfect the areas the birds were living in and test surrounding poultry farms for the virus.

The Register reported that the virus is capable of killing an entire flock within 48 hours and is believed to be spread through the droppings of "migratory birds in the Mississippi flyway."

Egg industry experts told the Associated Press that it's too early to predict whether the outbreak will affect egg prices.

The recent loss of 2.4 million turkeys, which are more susceptible to the virus, is said to be significant. The Star Tribune reported that Hormel Foods Corp. said the avian influenza that has struck Minnesota's turkey industry will push down profits.

"'We are experiencing significant challenges in our turkey supply chain due to the recent [highly pathogenic avian flu] outbreaks in Minnesota and Wisconsin,' Hormel CEO Jeffrey Ettinger said in a statement. Owner of the Jennie-O brand, Hormel is the country's second-largest turkey processor."