Bird flu returns to the US

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

Up to 250,000 birds, including 60,000 turkeys, will be killed to stop the spread of bird flu
Up to 250,000 birds, including 60,000 turkeys, will be killed to stop the spread of bird flu

Related tags: Avian influenza, Influenza, Us, Poultry

The US government has reacted quickly to protect the poultry sector from a potentially devastating bird flu outbreak to avoid a repeat of 2015’s crisis. 

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed a case of the highly pathogenic H7N8 avian influenza (AI) strain had been detected on a commercial turkey farm in Indiana, on Friday 15 January,

The farm in Indiana was quickly placed under quarantine and all 60,000 birds were culled within 29 hours.

US emergency health officials responded to the hazard with speed. Nearby farms in Indiana and neighbouring states, including Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois, were quickly notified of the outbreak, with workers potentially exposed to the AI strain placed under surveillance.

Around 250,000 birds from neighbouring farms are expected to be killed in a bid to stem the spread of the virus.

In numbers: the worst bird flu outbreak in US history

  • 48 million birds killed 
     
  • Cost industry $3.3bn
     
  • Egg prices rose by 80%
     
  • Exports fell by 14%
     
  • Poultry imports blocked by 18 states

Contagious strain

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said there were no known cases of the H7N8 strain infecting people.

Despite this, the strain is believed to be more contagious than the one that caused mass havoc to the US poultry​ industry in the summer of 2015.

Indiana’s bird flu scare comes after Moody’s Investor Services​ claimed the US poultry sector would be able to handle the outbreak of a new bird flu virus “better​” in the future.

Since the last outbreak, the industry has increased biosecurity measures and improved staff training in a bid to be more prepared. As a result, the US has an excellent AI surveillance program, but is it better equipped to deal with the outbreak this time around?

'Biosecurity should be reviewed' 

Our association does feel that the industry is better equipped to handle the outbreak this time,​” said Gwen Venable, vice-president of communications at the US Poultry & Egg Association.

There has been only one turkey premise infected with high pathogenic avian influenza H7N8, a different virus that is not related to the H5N2 Eurasian virus that affected the poultry industry in 2015.

While several additional farms were confirmed to have the H7N8 virus in Indiana over the weekend, all of the newer cases are a low pathogenic version of the H7N8 virus. Aggressive testing of flocks beyond even the initial control zone is being conducted, with negative test results in all cases to date... However, biosecurity protocols should be reviewed and strictly implemented.​”

Meanwhile, the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) said there were key differences to this outbreak when compared to last year’s.

The biggest difference between last week’s announced detection of HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) in Indiana and the first ones of late 2014 and early 2015 is that this one took no one by surprise – not USDA, and certainly not the industry,​” said Toby Moore, from USAPEEC.

APHIS has done a tremendous job in the wake of the 2015 outbreaks in working with the US industry and with the various animal health agencies at the state level to prepare for the avian influenza season this year. As a result, everyone involved is much better prepared to take action and take action quickly in the event of virus detection.​”

Related topics: Meat

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