PoliGraph: Erhardt’s bird flu claim is false


For some Minnesota poultry farmers this year’s massive avian flu outbreak is  the worst they’ve ever seen.

Nearly 3.8 million birds have died from the virus or were killed to prevent it from spreading. It’s hit the state’s $800 million turkey farming industry the hardest.

In the midst of the crisis, legislators have discussed emergency funding to help poultry farmers deal with the outbreak, and have made a point to promote consumption of Minnesota turkeys.

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But one DFL legislator took to the House floor to give a bizarre speech about why he’s worried about the risk of humans getting avian flu.

Rep. Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina said that after eating turkey over the weekend “he was all flu-ed out” and referred to eating turkeys as “possible poison,” saying that there has been transference of avian flu to humans in the past.

Erhardt’s statements imply people can get avian flu from eating poultry, and that’s not true.

The Evidence

So far, no humans have been infected with this particular strain of avian flu, technically known as H5N2.

That said, people in other countries have been infected with other strains of the disease in the past.

Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider the risk low, that’s why some poultry workers who are having direct, prolonged contact with the sick birds are taking Tamiflu to prevent against getting the virus.

“It’s not a public health risk, it is a potential occupational risk,” said State Public Health Veterinarian Joni Scheftel.

Scheftel said the state has followed 250 people who have had contact with sick birds and tested 13 of them who were displaying respiratory infection symptoms. None tested positive for the virus.

Scheftel said more importantly, eating poultry is not a health risk as Erhardt implied in his floor speech.

“There is actually evidence that it isn’t transmitted through food,” she said.

Scheftel said that in other parts of the world where people have become sick with other strains of avian flu, it’s sometimes one person in a household who is preparing a sick bird to be cooked and eaten. But in no cases has anyone who has eaten the bird become sick, too.

For his part, Erhardt didn’t respond to PoliGraph’s inquiry about his sourcing.

But in a press statement, he apologized for “making light of a serious issue” and said that after speaking with officials from the Minnesota Department of Health, he is “confident in their work, and assessment that consuming turkey is safe for Minnesotans.”

The Verdict

The bottom line: Erhardt’s floor statements are false because you can’t get avian flu from eating turkey. And so far, no human has been infected with this strain of avian flu even after direct contact.