State and federal officials have killed tens of thousands of broiler chickens and turkeys on poultry farms in Indiana and Kentucky, and backyard flocks in three other states, while fighting outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). They are the first cases of the viral disease, which can quickly wipe out flocks, among domestic flocks in two years.
Nine cases of the viral disease have been confirmed in the eastern United States in less than two weeks. Authorities believe the disease was being spread by migratory waterfowl, so they advised poultry owners to avoid contact with waterfowl or their droppings. Nearly 50 million birds, mostly laying hens and turkeys, died in an epidemic of HPAI in 2014 and 2015.
The United States is one of the largest poultry exporters in the world. The USDA asked trading partners to minimize trade impacts and urged poultry farms to strengthen their safeguards against bird flu. China, South Korea, and Mexico banned poultry imports from Indiana, site of the first confirmed case of HPAI on February 8, reported Reuters.
So far, outbreaks have been reported in five states. The Indiana state Board of Animal Health said 118,673 turkeys were culled on four farms, two in Dubois County and two in Greene County, in southern Indiana. Nearby farms were being tested and monitored for bird flu. “BOAH staff continue to reach out to known hobby/backyard poultry owners in the control areas to schedule testing of birds to ensure the virus is not present. To date, 32 hobby flocks have been sampled; laboratory testing determined them as negative,” said the board.
“Keep birds indoors to prevent poultry flocks from coming into contact with wild or migratory birds,” said Kentucky state veterinarian Katie Flynn in a letter to poultry owners. “Restrict poultry access to any source of water that may have been contaminated by wild birds.” Bird flu was confirmed in a flock of broiler chickens in Fulton County at the western tip of Kentucky and in a turkey flock in Webster County in western Kentucky.
Backyard flocks were destroyed in Fauquier County in northern Virginia; Knox County on Maine’s midcoast; and Suffolk County, New York, on Long Island. The Maine and New York outbreaks were reported over the weekend. Bird flu was found in eight birds that were part of a small flock in Suffolk County, said WABC-TV. The USDA said the Maine outbreak involved “a non-commercial backyard flock (non-poultry).”
HPAI has a high mortality rate among birds but is not considered an immediate health threat to people.