Bird flu found at 3rd Indiana turkey farm

INDIANAPOLIS — A strain of avian flu has been found at a third commercial turkey farm in southern Indiana, state officials said Thursday.

Laboratory testing of a commercial flock of turkeys in Greene County has come back as presumptively positive for the virus, the Indiana State Board of Animal Health said. The samples are being verified at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa.

The previous two cases were in adjacent Dubois County.

Pending test results should indicate if the virus is the same as that in the previous cases and if the virus is highly pathogenic.

A high mortality rate led to testing at the third farm. Officials have begun euthanizing birds at the farm to prevent the spread of the disease.

A third 6 mile circle was established around the farm in Greene County and northern Daviess County. Ten commercial poultry flocks within the new control area are under quarantine and will be tested regularly, the board said.

Animal Health Board staff reached out to known hobby/backyard poultry owners in the new control area to schedule testing of birds there, it said.

The agency said avian influenza does not present an immediate public health concern and no human cases of avian influenza viruses have been detected in the U.S.

The USDA also confirmed the presence of bird flu in a flock of commercial broiler chickens in Fulton County, Kentucky, and are awaiting results of a potential second case about 124 miles northeast in Webster County, Ketucky. A backyard flock of mixed species birds in northern Virginia also is positive for the virus. State officials quarantined areas and the birds at the new positively identified sites will be killed and removed.

The turkey infections are the first confirmation of highly pathogenic bird flu in commercial poultry in the U.S. since 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said.

A January 2016 outbreak of bird flu in Dubois County affected 11 poultry farms, resulting in the loss of more than 400,000 birds, the Animal Health Board said.

A widespread bird flu outbreak in 2015 killed 50 million birds across 15 states and cost the federal government almost $1 billion.

The poultry industry and government officials say they have plans to more quickly stop the spread that were learned from 2015, but they’re urging caution since the virus strain is potentially deadly to commercial poultry. Egg, turkey and chicken prices could rise and availability could drop if birds at enough farms were to be infected.

“It’s definitely considered a period of high risk now that we have a confirmed case of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the commercial poultry industry,” said Dr. Denise Heard, a poultry veterinarian and vice president of research for the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association. “I feel positive that we can tackle this situation better and I have my fingers crossed that this will be an isolated case, however, I would hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.”

The 2015 outbreak led producers to kill 33 million egg-laying hens in Iowa, the nation’s leading egg producer, and 9 million birds in Minnesota, the nation’s leading turkey producer, with smaller outbreaks in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The disease caused egg and turkey prices across the country to soar for months, with the cost of eggs up 61% at one point and prices for boneless, skinless turkey breasts rising 75% between May and July 2015.

The outbreaks were deemed the most expensive animal health disaster in U.S. history, costing the government almost $1 billion for removal and disposal of infected birds and government indemnity payments to producers for the lost birds.

The strain now circulating is H5N1 and is related to the 2015 virus. It has been circulating for months in Europe and Asia and was found in wild birds in Canada a few weeks ago and in a commercial flock in Canada a week before the first U.S. case was identified.

Migratory wild birds often carry strains of avian influenza and they’re often low pathogenic, which means they don’t kill the birds. Sometimes those strains can get into domestic flocks and mutate into more deadly viruses.

The H5N1 now spreading from wild birds is already highly pathogenic, which means it is deadly from the start, said Dr. Yuko Sato, a veterinarian and assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine at Iowa State University.

The virus spreads easily from wild bird droppings and can be carried into commercial flocks on the feet of workers or on equipment, which is why high-level biosecurity protocol has been activated across the country in commercial operations. They enacted new safeguards to prevent deadly bird flu infections, often referred to as HPAI, and isolate them when they occur.

“With the increased preparatory efforts USDA and its partners have put into place since the 2015 HPAI outbreak, we are fully prepared to handle this detection,” said Lyndsay Cole, a spokeswoman for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at USDA, which deals with outbreaks on U.S.