Many of us are old enough to remember the little old lady opening the bun and asking “Where’s the beef?” Well, this Thanksgiving, some of us may be asking “Where’s the turkey?” Avian influenza (bird flu) is responsible for this turkey shortage. Detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 influenza A viruses were detected in 21 US states last spring. These viruses occur naturally in wild aquatic birds and typically don’t make them sick. However, the viruses can sicken and kill domesticated bird species including chickens, ducks and turkeys. And, it is a highly contagious disease among flocks. Human infections can also occur and are usually due to transmission to humans from domesticated poultry. When these viral infections do occur in humans, they typically have a high fatality rate. Spread from human to human is rare at this time.
So, the US has a surveillance program for avian influenza A viruses in wild and domesticated birds. Most of the viruses detected are low pathogenic viruses. However, this spring, outbreaks of HPAI occurred in the Midwest and Western US. When detected in domestic poultry, the flock is culled to prevent further spread to other flocks and potential spread to humans. This spring, millions of poultry were culled. In fact, more than 48 million poultry were culled from infected flocks between December 2014 and June 2015. The outbreak decreased the US turkey supply by <10% of its total volume.
So, we may have a smaller turkey than usual at the table this year, but most of us are fortunate to have a cornucopia of dressing, side dishes, pumpkin pie and all the rest. And, we can be thankful for the plenty that we do have. And for being with family–the best part of Thanksgiving.