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Issues of the Environment: Emergency order in place to address Avian Influenza in Michigan

MDARD director Dr. Tim Boring
State of Michigan


  • Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), commonly called “bird flu,” is a virus found among various species of birds. HPAI viruses can infect domestic poultry, which includes chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl. The virus also infects a wide variety of other birds, including wild migratory waterfowl. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.michigan.gov/mdard/animals/diseases/avian/avian-influenza)
  • While it's not impacting people yet, HPAI's toll on the state's economy as well as its operations for supplying eggs and meat has taken a hit. Left unchecked, the director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development warns issues could only intensify. "Michigan's been in the unique position of dealing with a pretty significant HPAI outbreak both in a number of fair herds here in the state, but a number of poultry operations as well - some commercial egg laying facilities, some turkey farms," said Director Tim Boring.(Source: *directly quoted* https://www.fox2detroit.com/news/michigan-readies-emergency-order-to-manage-bird-flu-outbreak-hurting-poultry-farmers)
  • To quell the spread, state officials executed an emergency order on May 8th that will deploy biosecurity measures while tracking people on site of vulnerable farms."We continue to know that this virus is spread through people and vehicle movement, so we’ve called on poultry and dairy facilities across the state to be implementing some essential biosecurity practices for the cleaning and disinfecting, tracking who is on facilities, identification of a biosecurity manager," said Boring. It will also impact what fair season looks like this summer in Michigan, Boring said. (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.fox2detroit.com/news/michigan-readies-emergency-order-to-manage-bird-flu-outbreak-hurting-poultry-farmers)
  • As detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza continue to be discovered throughout the state, it remains vital for every producer to take steps to protect their animals. Cases of the disease continue to be found in Michigan’s wild birds and mammals. The virus was also recently detected in Michigan dairy cattle. It is just as important now as it was at the start of the HPAI outbreak in February 2022 for producers to take every step possible to protect domestic animals from wildlife and the germs they could be carrying. Since the outbreak began in February 2022, HPAI has been detected in domestic birds from Bay, Branch, Cass, Eaton, Genessee, Gratiot, Ingham, Ionia, Kalamazoo, Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Menominee, Montmorency, Muskegon, Newaygo, Oakland, Ottawa, Saginaw, Sanilac, Tuscola, Washtenaw, and Wexford counties. In April 2024, the disease has also been detected in dairy cattle from Barry, Ionia, Isabella, Montcalm and Ottawa counties.


David Fair: You may have heard bird flu is more severe than ever and has already been detected in a good number of Michigan counties. The problem is national in scope but touches us right here in Washtenaw County. I'm David Fair, and welcome to Issues of the Environment. Back on May 8th, the state of Michigan issued an emergency order in an effort to stop the spread of the highly contagious pathogen, avian influenza. It's not only impacting animal farming operations, but the economy and your pocketbook as well. Our guest today can speak to all of this. Doctor Tim Boring is director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, also known as MDARD. And Doctor Boring, thank you so much for the time today!

Dr. Tim Boring: Absolutely!

David Fair: How many counties in Michigan has it touched already?

Dr. Tim Boring: We've touched a number of counties here across the state in both avian impacts and dairy as well. And so, really, I think it's important to conceptualize, too, that the national response to highly pathogenic avian influenza has been going on for a number of years. It really became a subject across the country around 2022, with the confirmation. Historically, it's been in wild bird populations. And so, it's a disease that's lethal to birds--highly contagious. And we've implemented a number of steps, both here in Michigan and nationally, to limit the impact of this disease into into poultry species, commercial farms, and backyard flocks. What's different about what we're dealing with today was a spillover event that occurred early this last year in Texas, where, evidently, a dairy cow came down with the strain of this virus that had been impacting avian species to this point. So, a number of states have been affected by this now. And in the weeks since then, we've got dairy cow detections in nine states and 42 herds, I believe, across the country. Michigan has been uniquely impacted, seeing confirmations in 14 different herds here in Michigan. We've also had some associated poultry impacts to this as well in the States. So, a few commercial egg laying operations and turkey operations have contracted known strains of this virus that are associated with these dairy events. So, it's really been an issue here in Michigan on both the poultry side and on a dairy side of continued focus on mitigating the spread of this. We continue to learn a lot more about this virus every day. We know that pasteurization is an effective means to kill the virus.

David Fair: You say that, but it has been detected in pasteurized milk on store shelves. Has it not?

Dr. Tim Boring: The details are important on this. So, what pasteurization is going to do is denature a virus, right? It breaks it up and renders it inert. So, that initial work that was done on a research level, indicated through PCR testing, that they detected fragments of the virus. But after further examination and culturing samples on this and looking into it further, the pasteurization is doing exactly what we'd expect it to do--inactivating any sort of pathogen in that milk. And the milk is, indeed, free of any sort of live virus, any contagion potential.

David Fair: And I don't want to, in any way, shape or form, be alarmist where no alarm is necessary. The risk of human getting this is exceedingly low. However, back in April, the state of Texas where this originated with the dairy cows anyway, they did report that there was a human case. So, is there additional preventative measures that a consumer might take just to make themselves feel more assured?

Dr. Tim Boring: Well, you're absolutely right. Of the public health threats, this does remain very low, but there's been a high focus on both the national and the state level. So, this has really been one of government approach, both with federal partners and state. We're working on a daily basis and hourly basis for the Department of Health and Human Services here in Michigan to make sure that we're mitigating any to potential human health threats with this. There's been one worker, a farm worker in Texas, that was confirmed to have come down with this. When we have positive confirmations of farms of any kind here in Michigan, poultry, dairy, we're quickly enacting and working with local and state health partners to get out there and to monitor and touch base with workers. We've taken samples from hundreds of workers at this point. We're not seeing any sort of positive cases here in Michigan on a human aspect of this.

David Fair: Our Issues of the Environment conversation with Doctor Tim Boring continues on 89 one WEMU. Doctor Boring is director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. In Michigan alone, there are about 290 CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations. These are the large commercial operations. Is that where most of the avian flu is being detected?

Dr. Tim Boring: On the dairy side, we've seen a real range of operation size affected by this. There have been some large operations. There have been a number of what we would consider more of a medium-sized operation. That tracing work, that epidemiology work of understanding how the virus is moving around, the types of operations it's impacting, is moving very aggressively. We're really prioritizing a lot of that work to understand how we continue to mitigate this virus. But I wouldn't say, at this point, that any one size operation has been particularly at risk of this. And even to the point that we had a confirmation of a backyard flock and a poultry aside within the last week or so. So, we're really seeing a range of operations vulnerable to this in a way that it seems like we haven't seen those vulnerabilities in the past.

David Fair: The emergency order expedites the amount of work being done to slow the spread. What exactly is contained in that order?

Dr. Tim Boring: This is really a work that followed on a federal order that came out about a week before our state order and is following the best available science. The federal order put in place mandatory testing, mirroring what we had already been doing here at a state level, and it was focused on an interstate movement of cattle across markets. Our state level follows the work that our epidemiology work--our teams--have been doing, understanding that this virus is moving around within the state in a unique way. We called on increased biosecurity practices on dairy and poultry farms alike, implementing more aggressive cleaning and sanitizing, isolation of animals from potential people coming onto farms, vehicles coming onto farms. It instituted some safety measures too around what poultry and lactating cow shows and fairs might be for the upcoming season. It's something we've unfortunately dealt with a few times in the last few years here of of putting a pause on poultry operations or poultry expositions affairs, but implementing some biosecurity practices here that we know are associated with the continuous spread of this virus, all in an effort to continue to mitigate the spread.

David Fair: Heading into 2024, I believe 90 million birds were impacted, most of which was domestic poultry. This year, the impact and subsequent kill-off of infected poultry will touch millions more. Can you assess the impact on the economy to this point?

Dr. Tim Boring: Well, we know we've seen some pretty significant economic hits here in Michigan, specifically. A lot of these markets, and especially on the poultry side, we would expect to see a more significant hit to this with the supply chain in the short term here. These are fluid markets across states. And so, eggs are traded on a pretty large national scale here. We don't anticipate at this point any egg shortages, but we're continuing to work with federal partners to understand exactly what the economic ramifications of this might be and what the short-term impact might be on egg and meat prices here on grocery shelves here in Michigan. We anticipate some, but we're still working to determine the full extent of that.

David Fair: You know, COVID-19 was a pandemic for humans, and then it became slowly but surely endemic. Is that what we're looking at with avian flu with poultry and cattle at this point?

Dr. Tim Boring: I think time will tell on that. The virus operates differently in different species. And so, this is highly lethal to poultry flocks and the farms. On the dairy side and other mammalian species, we're committed to mitigating the spread, so that we're only dealing with this significantly in, I think we're going to be looking at exactly what the long-term characteristics of the virus are. We remind ourselves a bit around here that there we're only around 5 or 6 weeks into the outbreak of this disease here in Michigan. So, there's an awful lot we don't know, but we're actively working to close those loopholes to understand a lot of answers to questions that are going to be key for us of long-term containing this virus.

David Fair: Understanding that once an outbreak occurs, we're already behind the eight ball, and we're playing catch up in trying to track its evolution and where it's headed, so you can get ahead of it. Do you expect that we'll be ahead of this by the end of the year?

Dr. Tim Boring: I think so, yes. It's been a process of how quickly the science on this and the coordination of partners. USDA has been fantastic. And the resources here at Michigan, we've had a number of staff of other folks working to help us implement responses of this emergency. But a lot of researchers are here on the ground with us in Michigan and from across the country asking the questions that we need to get better understand this virus. We've seen a lot of cooperation from farms and other partners on this of really a true dedication that we've consistently heard from the federal side that that makes Michigan unique. The folks have been really forthcoming and invested in getting to the answers we need here in the state. I think our response here in Michigan, I think, should make folks proud of our ability to get the answer is we need.

David Fair: Well, thank you so much for the time and the information today. We appreciate the up-to-date information.

Dr. Tim Boring: Certainly!

David Fair: That is Doctor Tim Boring. He is director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and our guest on Issues of the Environment. For more information on today's discussion and links to more information on avian influenza and how Michigan is dealing with it, pay a visit to our website at wemu.org. Issues of the Environment: it's produced in partnership with the office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner. We bring it to you every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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