This year, more than 48 million turkeys and laying hens in the Midwest died from a highly pathogenic outbreak of avian influenza.
College of Agricultural Sciences Public Relations Specialist Chuck Gill said Pennsylvania could be in danger if precautionary steps are not taken.
The Atlantic flyway, which includes Pennsylvania, is the last of the four migratory flyways in North America to not be affected by an avian flu outbreak this year.
Avian flu is commonly known as bird flu — an infectious viral disease of birds.
Other than a strain or two in Asia, humans are not a health risk of contracting the virus, Dr. Patricia Dunn from the Penn State Animal Diagnostic lab said.
However, although humans do not need to possess health concerns over avian flu, the economy is where the human population could be affected by another outbreak.
“This is something that can be detrimental to our economy,” Gill said. “We are fourth in the nation in egg production, so if flocks are lost there will be a shortage of eggs for consumers.”
Gill said along with this, trade goes down when a state has avian flu, so the country loses export relations. Avian flu is the reason egg prices went up in the first place, Gill said.
Phillip Clauer of Penn State Extension said the Midwest had a 97 percent mortality rate over the span of three days this summer, and is still trying to recover.
“It’s kind of like we don’t want the snowball to get so big it rolls us over,” Clauer said.
Penn State Extension is working to keep people educated, so there is not an outbreak on the east coast.
Because it is peak migration time right now, the concern is that when birds go south, the intermingling with wild birds could be dangerous and lead to the high alert concerning avian flu to continue for two to three more years.
Wild waterfowl is a main carrier of the virus, so Gill said people must be on the lookout as the migration to warmer weather continues.
“The virus can survive in water for up to 30 days,” Clauer said.
Clauer said the virus is highly contagious and spreads at a fast rate.
Avian flu can either be low pathogen or high pathogen. Dunn said at the lab, tests are constantly being run to monitor things like avian flu, and often there are results that require further investigation or signs of a low pathogen case.
Dunn said the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has many protocols when any sign avian flu is found, but usually the flock is quarantined and then destroyed.
“The trendy thing these days is for people to have small flocks in their backyard, or to even have chickens as pets,” Gill said. “So people must be educated and aware about avian flu.”