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Deadly bird flu found in two more states

State and federal officials said they would kill infected poultry flocks in Kentucky and Virginia to prevent the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), a deadly poultry disease. The Agriculture Department reported the new cases on Monday and asked trading partners to minimize the impact on poultry exports if they decide to restrict entry of U.S. chicken meat because of the disease.

In less than a week, the USDA has reported three cases of bird flu, from the Shenandoah Mountains to the Mississippi River. They were the first confirmations of HPAI in U.S. domestic flocks in two years. The disease, which can quickly wipe out a flock, can be costly. Nearly 50 million birds, mostly laying hens and turkeys, died in an epidemic of avian influenza in 2014 and 2015.

The new infections were in a flock of broiler chickens, being raised for human consumption, in Fulton County, at the western tip of Kentucky, and in a mixed species backyard flock in Fauquier County in northern Virginia. The first case, reported last Tuesday, was a flock of 29,000 turkeys in Dubois County in southern Indiana. The USDA said it was also testing samples from a turkey flock in Webster County, Kentucky, about 120 miles northeast of Fulton County.

“We are working diligently to prevent this virus from spreading to other poultry premises,” said Kentucky state veterinarian Katie Flynn. State officials quarantined the affected farms and said they would monitor poultry farms that are within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of them. The USDA said “depopulation” of the backyard flock in Virginia was complete and the Kentucky flock also would be culled.

The USDA said it will limit its public notification of HPAI cases to the first case in a state. Subsequent detections will be listed on an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service site. As of Monday, the site listed the three cases in domestic flocks and 139 infections in wild birds in seven states along the Atlantic coast from Florida to New Hampshire this year.

A USDA spokesperson was not immediately available to explain why USDA decided to announce only the first case in a state. In the 2014-15 epidemic, some states had dozens of outbreaks.

China and South Korea limited purchases of poultry meat from Indiana following the discovery of HPAI in the turkey flock there, reported Reuters. Last week, the USDA estimated nearly 1 of every 6 pounds of U.S. broiler production would be exported this year. Poultry exports were worth $5.25 billion last year.

“Any detection of HPAI in poultry in the United States is a concern and the industry remains on high alert,” said the trade group National Chicken Council. “But the United States has the most robust monitoring and surveillance program in the world — and detailed plans are in place to control spreading among flocks and eliminate the virus completely. All U.S. flocks are tested year-round for avian influenza.”

Last week, the USDA said it would expand wild bird surveillance for avian influenza to the Mississippi and Central Flyways and enlarge its surveillance of the Atlantic and Pacific Flyways, where it monitors birds that may interact with European or Asian fowl.

“In addition to practicing good biosecurity, all bird owners should prevent contact between their birds and wild birds and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths” to their state veterinarian or to APHIS, said the USDA.

The leading states for broiler chicken production are Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. The top states for turkey production are North Carolina, Minnesota, Indiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.

The APHIS list of bird flu outbreaks is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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