Iowa is in a state of emergency due to a highly contagious strain of avian flu called H5N2. Gov. Terry Branstad enacted the proclamation Friday after more than 20 confirmed or presumed outbreaks at commercial poultry facilities around the state.
This very contagious H5N2 has a high mortality rate among poultry, and therefore infection of commercial flocks is economically devastating to producers. So far roughly a quarter of Iowa's nearly 60 million laying hens have been affected by the virus.
"We are the number one egg producing state, and we're number 9 in turkey production," says Branstad. "There are significant operations in our state, and so it's had an impact already. And that's the reason why we felt we needed to go this extra step of the disaster emergency designation."
The United States Department of Agriculture and State of Iowa both say the virus poses no food safety concerns. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention say that the risk to human health is low, as this strain of avian flu has never been documented in any mammal.
The disaster proclamation temporarily lifts restrictions for commercial vehicles in order to speed the disposal of poultry carcasses, and allows state agencies to establish buffer zones and checkpoints surrounding quarantined areas. It also activates the State Emergency Operations Center where staff from various agencies coordinate resources and personnel.
Although it is believed that the virus spreads though the feces of migratory waterfowl, the USDA is not entirely sure how the virus continues to infect poultry flocks despite heightened bio security measures.
"Everyone should treat their site as if it potentially has it," says Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. "On the dust on the road in front, on the workers walking into the site. So that means disinfect before you go in around those birds. We don't know that's how it's moving. But certainly, theoretically it could."
The USDA has confirmed infection in 88 commercial flocks across the Midwest since March of 2015.
Outbreaks are expected to decrease this summer as the virus spreads more quickly in a cool, damp, overcast climate. Sunny days dry out contaminated feces and ultraviolet light kills the disease.