Market News & Headlines >> Bird Flu Now a Year-Round Problem

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) continues to reach new regions of the globe and the virus has become endemic in some wild birds that transmit it to poultry, according to veterinarians and disease experts interviewed by Reuters News Service, who warned the virus is now a year-round problem. 

Reuters spoke to more than 20 experts and farmers on four continents who said the prevalence of the virus in the wild signals record outbreaks on poultry farms will not abate soon. The U.S., Britain, France and Japan are among countries that have suffered record losses of poultry over the past year.  Poultry in the Northern Hemisphere were previously considered to be most at risk when wild birds are active during spring migration. Soaring levels of the virus in a broad range of waterfowl and other wild birds mean poultry now face high risks year round, experts said. 

Wild birds are primarily responsible for spreading the virus, according to experts. Wild birds have spread the disease farther and wider around the world than ever before, likely carrying record amounts of the virus, said Gregorio Torres, the head of the science department at the Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health. The virus changed from previous outbreaks to a form that is probably more transmissible, he told Reuters. 

David Suarez, acting laboratory director of the U.S. government's Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Georgia told Reuters the current form of the virus circulating is infecting a broader range of wild birds than previous versions, including those that do not migrate long distances. 

Some experts suspect climate change may be contributing to the global spread by altering wild birds' habitats and migratory paths. "The wild bird dynamics have shifted, and that's allowed the viruses that live in them to shift as well," said Carol Cardona, an avian flu expert and professor at the University of Minnesota.