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.
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