MSU Livestock Specialist Tommy Bass Responds to Avian Flu H5N2 Outbreak


BOZEMAN – Montana State University Extension livestock environment associate specialist Tommy Bass recently responded to the epicenter of an Avian Influenza H5N2 outbreak as a representative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. An animal mortality expert, Bass served in mid-May as part of the agency’s comprehensive disaster response team in Willmar, Minn., which was hit hard by the H5N2 virus.


According to agricultural economists, the economic loss to the industry, including feed suppliers, trucking companies, processing plants and other related businesses from the outbreak is expected to top $1 billion. Consumer-related woes range from higher-than-normal egg prices to concerns about product availability, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Bass said that on his first day in Willmar, a farm with two million laying hens tested positive for the virus, resulting in the humane euthanization of all two million birds to prevent further spread. By the end of June, H5N2 claimed the lives of roughly 48 million birds, mostly egg layers and turkeys, in 15 states, including Montana, though predominately in Iowa and Minnesota.


[EasyDNNGallery|2327|Width|350|Height|350|position|left|resizecrop|False|lightbox|False|title|False|description|True|redirection|False|LinkText||]According to Bass, the key to bringing back the industry is the safe disposal of carcasses, followed by disinfecting facilities and repopulating the flocks. While in Willmar, Bass served as a subject matter expert responsible for advising and educating on proper mortality compost management and inspecting facilities to ensure compliance. Since returning, he has continued to take part in weekly conference calls with other composting experts and USDA administrators.


While Bass found he had good familiarity and skills related to composting and emergency management, he found the scope of response to be immense.


“There was a huge team rapidly put in place. Each individual had clear responsibilities. I had a very specific role and scope,” said Bass. “I was a small cog in a huge operation that functioned very smoothly. It was really invigorating to see so many experts working together in real time to develop real solutions.”


The USDA’s national compost team has developed a suite of resources for future outbreaks regarding mortality management. Bass said that recommendations and testimonials are being reviewed and specific best management practices for avian influenza outbreaks are being determined.


For his part, Bass called the entire process an incredible learning experience.


“I feel like I did help, and I’m proud of that,” he said. “I’ve improved my critical thinking and ability to make decisions in a rapidly changing environment. I will be a better teacher because of it and I am more cognizant of how important real, applied experiences are. It’s very important not only to have emergency plans in place, but to conduct training exercises so that people can properly execute them.”


According to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the United States is already recognized as having the strongest Avian Influenza surveillance program in the world, and extensive research has happened over the last three months to learn more about how the Avian Influenza virus moves and how to prepare against it. While there is some worry that the virus could return with fall migration of wild fowl, Bass said that much has been learned and precautions are in place to try to lessen any impact.


Experts from MSU Extension say that because of efficient response and recovery surrounding the outbreak, egg prices should begin falling. And, turkey experts suggest there won’t be any supply problems, meaning finding that turkey for Thanksgiving dinner shouldn’t be any more challenging than usual. 





Source:  MSU News Service

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