Avian influenza strikes southern states, impacts export markets
Danley-Greiner has spent more than 20 years as a journalist covering local, state and national issues important to agriculture and those dedicated to farming.
After one commercial poultry flock tested positive for the bird flu in southern Tennessee in March, a second case of the highly pathogenic avian influenza cropped up at another commercial poultry farm located within the infected controlled quarantined zone just a week or so later.
Three other cases of the same strain were identified in three northern Alabama counties, too.
The first avian influenza case in Tennessee was the nation’s first such case involving a commercial poultry operation in more than a year. In 2014 and 2015, the highly pathogenic bird flu prompted the death of approximately 50 million birds.
Tennessee’s state veterinarian Charles Hatcher said he wasn’t surprised by the second outbreak of H7N9 flu in the state. The second infected flock was located just two miles away from the original outbreak site. Additional outbreaks often occur within a quarantined zone, he said. Both flocks that were infected provide poultry to Tyson Foods Inc.
All of the current cases in Tennessee and Alabama fall within what’s called the Mississippi fly zone. The recent outbreaks can be linked to a wild North American bird lineage that carried the strain, said Donna Karlsons, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Karlsons said the initial flock in Tennessee showed clinical signs of having avian flu and there was an increase in mysterious deaths within the flock.
Because the producers impacted by this latest outbreak had biosecurity plans in place, the disease was detected and treated quickly. In fact, the commercial producer in Tennessee involved in the first outbreak opted to put down 73,500 birds in his flock without having an official diagnosis from the state veterinarian as a precaution. The second flock had 55,000 birds impacted and culled.
“This producer acted quickly and a quick response can help decrease the amount of virus shed in the environment. The rapid response to HPAI is the result of a concerted federal-state effort focused on emergency response planning and preparedness,” Karlsons said. “APHIS immediately activated a response team to the area. Since the 2014-2015 outbreak, we learned that acting quickly and working together is the most effective response to outbreaks. We’ve allocated resources and we have equipment ready. For HPAI, we want to put the birds down quickly to minimize the spread of the virus.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian Jack Shere said the sooner the avian flu is detected, the sooner all parties can react to the situation and prevent the spread of the outbreak.
“These farms will continue to be under surveillance for the next 30 to 60 days to prove there’s no lingering issues,” Shere said.
Hatcher advised poultry producers to have biosecurity measures in place to protect their flocks. Those precautions include wearing specific clothing in each poultry barn and not from building to building; minimizing access to sanitized equipment and people; preventing wild birds and animals from gaining access to the area around poultry buildings; properly disposing of culled birds and their bedding material; avoiding contact with migratory waterfowl; and sanitizing buildings before new flocks are brought in.
No matter how quickly the outbreak is contained, a confirmed case of HPAI makes a dent in the poultry industry. Some countries that import U.S. poultry products have bans in place that are just for the state where the outbreak occurs, while other countries ban all imports from the entire country, Karlsons said.
South Korea and Japan are two such countries who have restricted imports after the first case was detected in Tennessee. Lisa Ferguson with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the U.S. is trying to establish “forward-looking agreements” with other countries to minimize the overall impact on the export-import markets when such an outbreak occurs.
“We would like countries to agree to limit their restrictions to the state level or an even a smaller area. They don’t need to enact quarantines on the entire country,” Ferguson said.
Company officials with Tyson said they worked closely with federal and state officials to euthanize the birds from the infected flocks. They do not anticipate any issues with meeting demands for poultry because of the outbreak. However, after the second outbreak, shares in Tyson dropped 2.7 percent. ❖