Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Bird flu returns in U.S. turkey flocks

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By Barbara Olejnik

Poultry Times staff

WASHINGTON — Ten Indiana turkey farms have been identified as being infected with avian influenza, although only one, as of Jan. 18, is confirmed to be a highly pathogenic strain.

USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic H7N8 avian influenza (HPAI) in a commercial turkey flock in Dubois County, Indiana with 60,000 birds. This is a different strain of HPAI than the strains that caused the 2015 outbreak.

The outbreak in 2015 of highly pathogenic avian influenza affected 211 commercial and 21 backyard poultry premises.

That outbreak resulted in the depopulation of 7.5 million turkeys and 42.1 million chickens.

Samples from the Indiana turkey flock, which experienced increased mortality, were tested at the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue University, which is a part of USDA’s National Animal Health Laboratory Network, and confirmed by USDA on Jan. 15.

Dr. John Clifford, USDA chief veterinarian, said, “It appears that there was a low pathogenic virus circulating in the poultry population in this area, and that virus likely mutated into a highly pathogenic virus in one flock.”

APHIS is working with the Indiana State Board of Animal Health on a joint incident response. State officials quarantined the affected premises and depopulated the premises to prevent spread of the disease.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence stated, “Indiana is one of the largest poultry states in America, and I have directed all relevant agencies to bring the full resources of the state of Indiana to bear on containing and resolving the issue as quickly as possible.”

He noted that multiple state agencies have been heavily focused for nearly a year on the necessary steps to take in the event of an avian influenza outbreak and “Hoosiers can be assured that we are taking all precautions to contain the situation and minimize the effects to Indiana’s robust poultry industry.”

Indiana ranks fourth in the U.S. in turkey production, first in duck production, third in eggs and is a significant producer of broiler chickens. The industry employs more than 14,000 people and is valued at $2.5 billion.

Chad Gregory, president and CEO of the United Egg Producers, said, “We are aware of and deeply concerned about a confirmed positive finding of avian influenza (AI) on a turkey farm in southern Indiana. There are commercial egg farms in the area of the affected farm. We are working closely with our farmer-members to assure they are taking all necessary steps to protect their flocks and keep the disease from entering their farms.

“Preventing the spread of this disease is a critical priority. UEP and its members will work closely with USDA and government authorities to ensure full compliance with all quarantine zones and other AI containment measures,” Gregory added.

The Indiana farm where the virus was first found is associated with Farbest Farms, which produces about 15 million turkeys a year and has contract growers in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. A total of 60,000 birds on the farm were euthanized to help prevent spread of the disease.

All 10 of the infected farms are located in Dubois County, Indiana’s top poultry producer with 1.4 million turkeys. Infected turkeys on the additional nine farms will be culled. In addition, a quarantine around the original farm area has been expanded to four neighboring counties — Martin, Orange, Crawford and Daviess.

While birds from the flocks will not enter the food system, the proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F kills bacteria and viruses, including HPAI. There are no known cases of H7N8 infections in humans.

As part of existing avian influenza response plans, federal and state partners are working jointly on additional surveillance and testing in the nearby area.

APHIS noted that the rapid testing and response in this incident is the result of months of planning with local, state, federal and industry partners to ensure the most efficient and effective coordination.

In September, APHIS published a HPAI Fall Preparedness and Response Plan that captures the results of this planning effort, organizing information on preparatory activities, policy decisions and updated strategy documents.

APHIS pointed out that anyone involved with poultry production, from the small backyard to the large commercial producer, should review their biosecurity activities to assure the health of their birds. A biosecurity self-assessment and educational materials can be found at here.

All bird owners should also prevent contact between their birds and wild birds and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state/federal officials, either through their state veterinarian or through USDA’s toll-free number at 866-536-7593. Additional information on biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found here.

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