Indiana: New Strain of Bird Flu Found in Commercial Turkeys

A new strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza was detected in a commercial turkey flock in Dubois County, Indiana, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced Friday.

The new strain, H7N8, is different than the flu virus that caused the widespread outbreak in 2015, according to an APHIS news release.

Last year’s H5N2 avian flu outbreak was considered the worst animal disease outbreak in U.S. history, leading to the death of more than 48 million birds on 223 operations in nine states, according to USDA.

The Indiana outbreak was in a 60,000-bird turkey flock which was experiencing increased mortality. Samples from the flock were tested and confirmed as positive for HPAI at the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue University, which is part of USDA’s National Animal Health Laboratory.

Dubois County in southern Indiana is a major poultry-producing county, producing about 4 million turkeys a year, according to USDA’s 2012 Ag Census. The county also has large number of chicken layers and pullet operations.

T.J. Meyers, associate deputy administrator of APHIS Veterinary, said during a news conference Friday that the infected farm was quarantined immediately after the virus was confirmed. APHIS and state officials are collaborating to euthanize the entire flock to prevent the disease from spreading, he said.

APHIS reassured consumers that no birds from the flock will enter the food system. There are no known cases of H7N8 infections in humans. However, APHIS reminded consumers to cook all poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bacteria and viruses, including HPAI.

Since July, APHIS set a goal of attaining 40,000 samples from hunted or captured wild birds between July 2015 and July 2016.

Meyers said Friday that USDA has increased its monitoring of wild birds that are often the carriers of bird flu that end up infecting commercial flocks. USDA collected more than 25,000 samples. While a few H7 viruses were detected, that doesn’t mean they are the same as the virus recently found in Indiana. He added that officials will be looking at the viruses found during that testing and comparing it to the virus detected at the Indiana turkey operation.

APHIS did make a request for the purchase of vaccines made in August, but said it was directed at the virus from last year and did not include the H7 vaccine. Meyers said that officials have not seen the H7 virus in the U.S. before, although there have been confirmed cases in Canada and Mexico.

While it is also possible that a new vaccine could be developed against the H7 virus, Meyers said that APHIS’ vaccination policy is to use vaccines “only if it feels it is an important adjunct to stamping out an outbreak.”

“At this time, there is only one case. So we are not looking to do vaccinations at this point,” he said.

In coming days, both state and federal officials, along with industry representatives, will join in a combined effort to perform additional testing in a 10-kilometer area around the affected premises.

“We are mobilizing our incident management team to the area,” Meyers said. “Testing is critical to detect any additional cases.”

Meyers added that valuable lessons have been learned since the outbreak last year, and there have been great strides by the industry to strengthen biosecurity.

“Hopefully we can respond very quickly and get this outbreak contained, so we don’t see another outbreak like last year,” Meyers said.

The U.S. is making contact with key trading partners to communicate about the outbreak.

APHIS recommends that anyone involved with poultry production, from the small backyard to the large commercial producer, should review their biosecurity activities to assure the health of their birds. To facilitate such a review, a biosecurity self-assessment and educational materials can be found here.

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