UPDATE: Avian flu in Dubois County, no threat in Putnam County

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Since the first reported case of Jan. 14, the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) has confirmed nine cases of H7N8 avian influenza for a total of 10 affected commercial turkey farms in Dubois County. Avian influenza is not a food safety risk and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider the risk of human infection very low, but preventative measures are being taken to contain the spread of the virus.

A state Incident Management Team -- with the help of three Dubois County agencies, nine state agencies and 50 U.S. Department of Agriculture agents -- has established a Unified Incident Command Post (UCP) in Jasper. A national Incident Management Team from the USDA is expected to arrive this weekend as well.

BOAH has expanded its surveillance area six miles into parts of nearby Martin, Orange, Crawford and Daviess counties, bringing the total surveillance area to a 12-mile radius. Within the prescribed area, infected flocks and those nearby are being euthanized according to the American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines. The infected bodies are being composted for 30 days in their buildings (the compost can later be used as fertilizer), while the uninfected bodies are being taken to landfills. So far, euthanization has been completed at six of the 10 infected flocks. When completed, more than 400,000 birds will have been euthanized.

BOAH and the USDA are also testing area "backyard" flocks for the virus. So far, teams have identified 27 such flocks for daily testing, and 221 tests submitted to the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratory have shown no sign of the virus. Officials are also monitoring the health of workers and cooperating with farmers to disinfect their facilities and vehicles. Mental health services are being provided by the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.

Although the original H7N8 infection was highly pathogenic (spreads and kills fast), the eight of the nine new cases have been confirmed low-pathogenic, a strain which can be caught from migratory waterfowl. The remaining case was still being tested at printing time.

"The low-path H7N8 virus was identified during testing in the [six-mile] zone around the initial flu-positive flock," Indiana State Veterinarian Bret D. Marsh said. "Because flu viruses are constantly mutating, we want to catch any case as early as possible after infection. We know this virus strain can intensify, so finding these cases as low-path strains show we are keeping pace with the spread of the disease in the area. The finding of highly pathogenic H7N8 is unique to Indiana and the nation... it is unrelated to those identified in the Upper Midwest in 2015, nor is it related to the HPAI case identified in a Northeastern Indiana backyard poultry flock that was affected last May."

Poultry producers are encouraged to know the the signs of avian influenza, which are:

-- sudden death

-- loss of energy/appetite

-- swollen/purple head, eyelids, comb and hocks

-- nasal discharge, coughing and sneezing

-- diarhhea

-- decreased egg production and

-- soft-shelled/misshapen eggs.

The disease can be spread by wild waterfowl which show no signs of the disease. Owners can report poultry illness or death by calling the USDA Healthy Birds Hotline at 866-536-7593. Dead wild birds can also be reported at 812-334-1137. All reported birds should be double-bagged and refrigerated for testing. Readers can receive regular updates at www.in.gov/boah.

The H5N8 infection that started in Whitley County in May 2015 was the worst recorded in U.S. history. Officials responded by placing an all-bird ban at public exhibitions and sales to prevent the spread of the disease. The ban was relaxed for pet birds in July, but it wasn't until September that the ban on livestock and game species was lifted.

BOAH does not currently plan on placing another ban on exhibitions and sales this year, as poultry producers have been subject to Indiana's traceablitity requirements since the ban was lifted last September. Producers are now required to maintain records of sales and purchases within the last three years.

Dubois County is the state's largest turkey producer at 1.4 million birds a year. Indiana itself ranks fourth nationally in turkey production. The Indiana poultry industry as a whole generates $2.4 billion and employs 14,000. The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that shares in Tyson Foods Inc., Pilgrim's Pride Corp. and Sanderson Farms Inc. had fallen sharply, partly in fear that foreign countries will place bans on U.S. chicken imports. At the time, the foreign bans flooded the market and lowered the cost of chicken even as the price of turkey and eggs went up.

The CME Group reported in its Jan. 19 Daily Livestock Report that South Korea has in fact placed a ban on U.S. chicken, but tells readers not to be alarmed.

"All along, the true risk was widespread infection in key broiler producing regions. So far that has not been the case and the risk may be lower than some think given industry experience with the disease, enhanced biosecurity measures and the very aggressive containment practices that in the past have shown great success. At this point we are more concerned about the bearish impact that new cases of bird flu may have on chicken and red meat prices."

UPDATE: All turkeys at infected farms have been euthanized as of Jan. 20. As of Jan. 22, BOAH and the USDA have identified 96 backyard flocks, and all have tested negative for the virus. These flocks will be re-tested in two weeks.

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