Nationwide bird flu outbreak leads to online conspiracies

By: - May 20, 2022 5:30 am
Factory farm appearing rosters in tight cages in a long line

Getty images

A nationwide outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or bird flu, has struck Wisconsin poultry farms, backyard chicken coops and wild flocks of birds. Madison’s Henry Vilas Zoo has closed its bird exhibits and more than 3 million birds have been “depopulated,” according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).  

Yet despite the horrific effects the disease has had on the state’s flocks, the wallets of poultry farmers and, potentially, on already rising food prices, conspiracy theories have popped up online that it’s a hoax or a biological weapon.

“You just want to beat your head against the wall,” Iowa turkey farmer Brad Moline told the Associated Press. “I understand the frustration with how COVID was handled. I understand the lack of trust in the media today. I get it. But this is real.” 

Posts on mainstream social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as online message boards have alleged the outbreak is designed to reinstitute COVID lockdowns or blame 5G cell towers for the disease. 

“There is no ‘bird flu’ outbreak,” one post on Reddit stated. “It’s just Covid for chickens.”

The first confirmed cases of bird flu in Wisconsin were reported  in Jefferson County in March. Since then, more than 2.7 million birds have been killed in the county — by far the most in the state. Since that first outbreak, cases have been found in 21 counties. 

The outbreak has led to the quarantine of bird populations. Poultry shows and exhibitions have been canceled, ahead of summer fair season and DATCP has ordered the suspension of the movement of domestic birds for events.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.