Iowa produces more eggs than any state in the country, and is ninth nationally in turkey production. But both industries are being rocked by a relentless virus that is forcing farmers to destroy entire flocks. A highly pathogenic avian influenza — or bird flu — believed to be introduced by wild waterfowl such as ducks and geese has infected dozens of Iowa farms, causing the death and disposal of more than 20 million birds. While some farmers cope with devastating losses, others are taking every precaution possible to prevent the disease’s spread, knowing full well it could all be in vain.

Through Friday there have been 44 cases, most of them in Northwest Iowa. More are discovered almost daily, and a federal official said he thinks another round will hit in the fall when migratory birds return to the region. Local, state and federal government agencies are working to address the outbreak. “This is unique,” said Bill Northey, the state’s secretary of agriculture. “We’ve never had anything just like this in Iowa.” Experts said the last similar outbreak occurred in the early 1980s, and the worst of that occurred in Pennsylvania. MORE