Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza- US posts record 2022 loses to bird flu

A newly arrived virus called Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza  ("HPAI , aka “bird flu”) is killing poultry outright or causing farmers to cull their flocks to prevent its spread.  So far in 2022,  farmers have lost or culled over 24M chicken & turkeys contributing to a 44% increase in egg prices and adding $3 to the price of pound of chicken wings vs. 2021. 

This article covers how HPAI spreads, why current containment efforts are insufficient to contain HPAI, and suggests that a dietary deficiency in farmed poultry diets is responsible for these losses.

How is HPAI spread?

Bird flu is transmitted into poultry farms by wild birds. According to the US CDC and Iowa State University, most wild birds are asymptomatic from HPAI infections [1,2] and are capable of spreading the virus over long distances. This year’s bird flu is a global epidemic.  Japan, Korea, France have reported losses exceeding 36M birds and counting. [3] 

How is HPAI Contained?     

Some industry experts say that the only option for poultry farms to avoid outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is strict adherence to biosecurity protocols. These protocols include limiting employee contact with other poultry farms, bird droppings, feathers or debris, using disposable coveralls and plastic boots, doing boot changes with each house entry, and consistently using hand sanitizer and performing equipment sanitation.  

This advice sound’s painfully familiar to Dr. Fauci. The CDC’s COVID-19 response was designed to slow down mortality until we could develop vaccines.

Unfortunately there are no HPAI vaccines on the horizon.  HPAI, just like COVID-19,  can and will have mutations  making a vaccine technically difficult to develop.  A chicken, unlike a human, isn’t worth very much,  creating an economic barrier to wide-scale deployment.

Why are wild birds largely asymptomatic yet their domesticated counterparts are highly vulnerable?

Commercial poultry feeds lack astaxanthin, an essential micronutrient known to strengthen the immune system of many vertebrates. [4] Astaxanthin provides protection from reactive oxygen species (ROS) and enhances many molecular metabolic functions, especially the immune function. [5]

Domesticated bird eggs have no astaxanthin in the yolk unless it is added to their feeds.  Wild birds have 4-5 mg or more. [6]  You can see the presence or absence  of astaxanthin with the naked eye. Wild eggs are deep red/orange in color – that is astaxanthin which is critical for early development & growth including powering up the innate and adaptive immune system.  Some poultry feeds include synthetic astaxanthin which is the wrong form, a toxic orange dye that further compromises the animal's health. 

Wild fowl receive astaxanthin from eating bugs.  Astaxanthin supplements that mimic the correct stereoisomer found in bugs and are presented to the animal in a lipid rich, nano-emulsified,  esterified form have been shown to enable the immune system and promote health in chickens. [7]

While the source of Covid-19 is hotly debated,  there is no doubt that large flocks of immunology compromised birds create the ideal genetic pools for viruses to amplify, breed,  and evolve into powerful variants.  These variants may also evolve to cross over into humans, wild birds and swine.

Fortunately adding astaxanthin supplements into poultry feed is both economically and technically viable providing poultry producers the means to manage HPAI infections via diet.    If infected,  the flock may be asymptomatic or even suffer from temporary illness,  but, like their wild counterparts, their immune system is powerful enough to put down the virus and recover. 

[1]  https://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/wildbirds.htm

[2] Domesticated poultry infected with HPAI generally become very ill and do not survive: HPAI viruses usually cause severe illness in chickens and turkeys, and few birds in infected flocks survive. In comparison, wild birds are generally asymptomatic. In Wild birds the vast majority of LPAI viruses are maintained in asymptomatic wild birds, particularly birds in wetlands and other aquatic habitats, which are thought to be their natural reservoir hosts. [Iowa State University www.cfsph.edu).

[3]  Over 13 million poultry birds culled in France due to bird flu
 South Korea culls 13.6 million birds
9.8 million culled chickens in Japan due to avian flu

[4]  Snell, T.W.; Carberry, J. Astaxanthin Bioactivity Is Determined by Stereoisomer Composition and Extraction Method. Nutrients, 2022,14,1522. https:// doi.org/10.3390/nu14071522

[5]  P.F. Surai et al A Review Carotenoids in Avian Nutrition and Embryonic Development.  Absorption, Availability and Levels in Plasma and Egg Yolk Journal of Poultry Science, 38: 1-27, 2001

[6] Moreno, J. A. et al. The distribution of carotenoids in hens fed on bio-fortified maize is influenced by feed composition, absorption, resource allocation and storage. Sci. Rep. 6, 35346; doi: 10.1038/ srep35346 (2016)

[7]  Zhu et al Astaxanthin supplementation enriches productive performance, physiological and immunological responses in laying hens. Anim Biosci Vol. 34, No. 3:443-448 March 2021 https://doi.org/10.5713/ab.20.0550 pISSN 2765-0189 eISSN 2765-0235