MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The detection of a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu at a Tennessee chicken farm has poultry farmers stepping up security in an attempt to prevent an outbreak like the one in 2015 that required the destruction of millions of chickens and turkeys in the Midwest. The appearance of milder forms of bird flu at a Wisconsin turkey farm and another Tennessee chicken farm has heightened concern.
The highly pathogenic form of bird flu was confirmed last week in a flock of 73,500 breeding broiler chickens in Lincoln County, TN, after hundreds of birds began dying. It was identified as an H7N9 virus of North American wild bird origin. The USDA stressed that it was not the same H7N9 virus of Chinese lineage that has sickened poultry and people in Asia, nor is it related to the virus that caused the 2015 U.S. outbreak.
The USDA calls the 2015 outbreak the largest animal health emergency in U.S. history. It cost farmers nearly 50 million birds before it burned out in June 2015. Iowa, the country's top egg producer, and Minnesota, the No. 1 turkey producer, were by far the hardest hit.
A strain of low pathogenic H5N2 avian flu discovered in a flock of 84,000 turkeys at a Jenny-O store farm in Barron County, is not related to the H7 strain found in Tennessee, officials said. High path strains are often fatal for birds, but the low path strain found in Wisconsin is not uncommon in poultry flocks and tends to cause few, if any, clinical signs of illness in the birds.
The USDA said the turkey flock was tested after birds showed signs of depression and the infected premises were quarantined.
“Low path avian influenza is similar in severity to the common cold in humans and will eventually clear from the flock without bird loss,” said Dr. Darlene Konkle, Wisconsin's Assistant State Veterinarian.
Now that two strains of avian influenza have been found in the Mississippi Flyway, animal health officials with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection are urging all poultry owners, regardless of size, to increase bio-security efforts.
“It’s in a poultry owner’s best interest to take precautions now to minimize the effect that avian influenza will have on their flock if the disease makes its way to Wisconsin,” Konkle said.
Konkle recommends the following six steps for protecting birds from HPAI:
- Keep your distance — Restrict access to your property and keep your birds away from other birds.
- Keep it clean — Wash your hands thoroughly before and after working with your birds. Clean and disinfect equipment.
- Don’t haul disease home — Buy birds from reputable sources and keep new birds separated for at least 30 days.
- Don’t borrow disease — Do not share equipment or supplies with neighbors or other bird owners. If you must borrow, disinfect it first.
- Know the warning signs — Early detection can help prevent the spread of the disease. Check your birds frequently. If you find a sick or dead bird, don’t touch it.
- Report sick birds — Don’t wait. If your birds are sick or dying at an abnormal rate, call DATCP at 1-800-572-8981. If you notice dead wild birds, call the DNR’s hotline at 1-800-433-1610.
- Since 2015, many farmers have built the "Danish entry" system into their barns, said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. Anyone entering or leaving has to sit on a bench, take their boots off, swing their legs around to the "clean" side of the room, put on new boots and clothing that stay in the barn, and reverse the process when they leave.
Since 2015, many farmers have built the "Danish entry" system into their barns, said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. Anyone entering or leaving has to sit on a bench, take their boots off, swing their legs around to the "clean" side of the room, put on new boots and clothing that stay in the barn, and reverse the process when they leave.
CDC considers the risk to people to be low. No human infections with these viruses have been detected at this time. In addition, poultry and eggs are safe to consume as long as they are properly handled and meat is cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F.