- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Scientists believe 70-degree temperatures will kill the deadly bird flu virus - and the change in weather can’t come fast enough for producers in some Midwestern states struggling to contain a virulent strain that has doomed nearly 6.7 million turkeys and chickens since March. Here are some questions and answers about the outbreak:

WHAT’S THE LATEST?

The number of hens that’ll have to be killed at a northwest Iowa farm was revised downward Tuesday, from 5.3 million to 3.8 million. That’s still the largest number of poultry in one spot to be affected.

The smaller - yet still large - figure is the actual number of chickens at Sunrise Farms instead of the capacity of the farm, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Iowa agriculture officials gave Monday.

A total of eight Midwestern states, Iowa included, have been affected by the H5N2 virus. On Tuesday, four more farms, 3 in Minnesota and 1 in South Dakota, confirmed outbreaks.

WHAT’S THE OUTLOOK?

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials say the virus could be a problem for several years. USDA Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. John Clifford said Tuesday that once temperatures reach the 70s, new cases should drop off as the virus doesn’t survive well in warmer weather. In Minnesota, where many turkey farms have been affected, temperatures barely reached 40 in some spots Tuesday.

Federal and state agriculture officials are confident that current quarantines, surveillance and biosecurity measures will limit the spread, though any significant spreading of the virus would be cause for concern. Resurgence is expected this fall when wild waterfowl that are natural carriers of avian influenza fly south for the winter.

WHAT KIND OF FLU IS THIS, EXACTLY?

H5N2 is a highly contagious virus that kills commercial poultry quickly once it gets into a barn. The risk to the public is considered low, and infected birds and eggs are kept out of the food supply.

WHERE IS THIS TURNING UP, AND IN WHAT KINDS OF BIRDS?

Only two egg operations have been affected - one in Iowa and one in Wisconsin. Except for a couple of backyard flocks, all of the other cases have been at commercial turkey farms. Twenty-eight turkey farms in Minnesota, the nation’s top turkey-producing state, have been affected - more than anywhere else. Experts say that’s due to its thousands of lakes and ponds, which are attractive to migrating ducks and other waterfowl.

ARE TURKEYS MORE SUSCEPTIBLE THAN CHICKENS?

It appears turkeys pass this strain of virus on to others more easily than chickens; the fatality rate in turkey flocks is often 100 percent vs. about 60 percent in chickens. H5N2 and other highly pathogenic strains have also been found since late last year among wild birds, backyard flocks and commercial farms in some western states and British Columbia.

AREN’T MOST COMMERCIAL POULTRY BARNS TIGHTLY CONTROLLED TO KEEP DISEASES OUT?

They are enclosed but not airtight. Poultry farms with good biosecurity strictly limit who and what is allowed in: Workers often have to shower, wear protective coveralls and step in disinfectant, while equipment coming in and out is typically sanitized. But the system doesn’t always work, and rodents and wild birds can bring in the virus. Clifford said it’s even possible wind-blown feathers and dust exposed to wild bird droppings could spread it.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN BIRD FLU ARRIVES?

Affected birds die, and quickly. And once an infection is confirmed at a farm, all surviving birds are typically killed to prevent it from spreading. Turkeys and chickens being raised for meat are killed by pumping a water-based foam into the barn floor. In egg-laying facilities, where multiple levels of cages are off the floor, birds will likely be euthanized with carbon dioxide, rendering them unconscious in seconds.

WHAT DO THEY DO WITH THE CARCASSES?

They compost them - usually in the same barn where they died. The heat generated by composting is enough to kill flu viruses and other pathogens commonly present in poultry, such as salmonella. The compost then can be safely spread as fertilizer.

HOW ARE FARMS AFFECTED FINANCIALLY?

An outbreak certainly can cost a farm dearly. The government doesn’t compensate producers for birds that die of the virus itself, but it does reimburse them for birds that have to be euthanized as a precaution. That gives farmers an incentive to report suspected outbreaks.

DOES THIS MEAN I’LL BE PAYING MORE FOR TURKEY, EGGS AND CHICKEN?

Though roughly one in five eggs nationwide come from Iowa, consumers are unlikely to see price spikes in the near future. The toll nationwide represents just a small part of U.S. turkey and egg production.

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