U.S. kills 39,000 turkeys in low-path bird flu outbreak

(Scott Bauer photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

Chicago | Reuters — U.S. authorities destroyed 39,000 turkeys in Missouri due to an outbreak of a mild form of avian flu, the World Organization for Animal Health said on Tuesday, as officials remained on alert for new cases.

State authorities also have begun a quarantine and taken surveillance measures around the farm in Jasper County that was hit with the H5N1 strain of the virus to watch for other cases, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture. All commercial flocks within a 10-km radius of the farm have tested negative, the department said.

Jasper County, whose southern reaches include part of the city of Joplin, is in Missouri’s southwest.

The outbreak, which was detected late last month, is considered low pathogenic (“low-path”), meaning it is not as contagious or deadly as other varieties of the disease. Such strains are still a concern to agriculture and health officials because they can mutate into more dangerous, highly pathogenic forms of the virus.

Japan has banned imports of poultry from the area around the infected farm, and Kazakhstan has banned imports from Jasper County unless they are heat-treated to a required temperature, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture notices.

In January, an Indiana turkey flock was thought to have become infected with highly pathogenic flu when a less dangerous strain mutated. More than 400,000 birds around the infected farm were eventually culled to contain the outbreak.

Last year, almost 50 million chickens and turkeys died in the U.S. because they were infected with a fast-moving outbreak of high-path bird flu or killed to contain the disease.

Birds from the infected Missouri flock will not enter the food system, according to USDA.

In some outbreaks of low-path flu, infected poultry can be slaughtered for meat if they have time to recover from the disease and test negative for it. However, the Missouri flock was a week away from going to slaughter when it was infected and there was not enough time for that process, USDA said.

The agency said it is treating the Missouri infection as it would any other low-path flu case.

Wild birds are thought to spread the virus to farms through feces and feathers dropped from the air. The strain found in Missouri had its lineage in North American wild birds, officials said.

Reporting for Reuters by Tom Polansek in Chicago.

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