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US farms hit by bird flu – but a vaccine might make things worse



Bird flu is rampaging across the Midwestern US this week. So far 13 million chickens and turkeys have been culled or earmarked for destruction to stop the spread of H5N2, an offspring of Asia’s H5N1 bird flu. Minnesota, the top US turkey producer, declared an agricultural emergency after announcing infected farms almost daily for two weeks. Iowa, the top egg producer, killed 3.8 million hens on one farm alone.

US agriculture officials hope the outbreaks will diminish as summer warmth and sunshine destroys flu viruses in the environment. But their bird flu problems may be only beginning. Wild ducks could infect the rest of the continent next autumn.

And while H5N2, unlike H5N1, seems to pose little threat to humans, the $45 billion US poultry industry is already suffering, as China, South Korea and Mexico ban US produce. Producers are calling for a poultry vaccine, and the US Department of Agriculture says it is developing one. But that might just make the problem worse by encouraging the spread of “silent” infections.

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