I-Team 8

Conspiracy theorists: Avian flu is a weapon and a hoax

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The internet is a petri dish for conspiracy theories. A wave of theories is making the rounds that avain influenza is a bioweapon or completely made up. 

To clear the air, I-Team 8 spoke with the Indiana State Board of Animal Health and the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health.   

In February, I-Team 8 was in Dubois County at one of the first farms to test positive for bird flu. This farm euthanized 28,000 turkeys. A week later, another farm euthanized 26,000 turkeys. By the end of February, two more DuBois County farms combined euthanized another 50,000 turkeys. Since the beginning of the bird flu outbreak, Indiana farmers have euthanized 171,000 birds. Bird flu is a very real disease in Indiana.  

I-Team 8 asked Denise Derrer Spears of the Indiana Board of Animal Health, “Is there any reason to believe this was manufactured by somebody?”

Spears replied, “We have had no reason to believe that, or had any indication.” 

According to the Indiana State Board of Animal Health, the bird flu arrived in the state through the droppings of wild migrating birds making their way through Indiana.  

I-Team 8 asked, “So there is no reason to believe this has been weaponized?”

Spear replied, “No not at all. The thing to remember is wild birds have all kinds of things and they do normal migration, and it is not uncommon for them to carry a flu.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention has a list of possible diseases or agents with the potential to be weaponized. Bird flu is not on the list, and neither is COVID-19.

I-Team 8 found conspiracy theorists’ posts on Redditt that believe bird flu was released to drive up food prices, and create food shortages and panic. A few others believe bird flu is also a threat to humans.  

“The likelihood that this was intentional or weaponized is just not something that is the most likely scenario,” Shandy Dearth of the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University said. “I know that fear is always out there, but what we typically see happen is it could potentially cross over just naturally with COVID-19, and because of that, the CDC does regular surveillance.”

At least one farm worker in Colorado has tested positive for bird flu this year. This person was in close contact with birds being put down to slow the virus spread. According to the CDC website, the person isolated themselves and has fully recovered since contracting it. All farm workers in contact with infected flocks are monitored by state and local health departments.  

“I think they are tracking about 2,500 people who have been doing that work, but there has not been any person-to-person transmission from this bird flu,” Dearth said.

The infected Colorado farm worker was tested with a nasal swap. The CDC says it is possible the virus accumulated in his nose resulting in a false positive test.