Although the current risk of the virus spreading is low, K-State expert urges constant vigilance
MANHATTAN, Kan. – The discovery of avian influenza in a Tennessee commercial chicken breeding flock over the weekend is a reminder for Kansas poultry producers and others to remain diligent in spotting the disease.
More than 73,500 chickens in a southern county of Tennessee were euthanized over the weekend after the H7 strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) was found. All flocks within a six-mile radius of the farm are being tested and will not be transported until they test negative for the virus, said state and federal officials.
Scott Beyer, a poultry specialist for K-State Research and Extension, said the incident “seems to be a random infection as a result of birds migrating” along the path known as the Mississippi Flyway.
Kansas flocks likely are not at high risk of being affected by the Tennessee incident because the state is in a different flyway, Beyer said. But as birds mix this summer and return north later this year, there is a chance of future infection.
In any case, Beyer said poultry producers and all people should continually be aware of certain precautions to keep themselves, chickens and other avian species safe.
“One of the things that we need to do is stay away from migratory waterfowl, especially when they congregate in farm ponds,” Beyer said, noting that the virus can be found in feces, which can then be transferred to the rest of a farm on people’s shoes or by a dog carrying the virus.
The only known incident of avian influenza in Kansas occurred a little under three years ago. The spread of the highly contagious virus was thought to be caused by waterfowl in a farm pond, Beyer said. The incident shut down movement of birds and several bird shows, including the chicken displays at the Kansas State Fair.
During that same time, avian influenza infected many other U.S. flocks, with major losses experienced in Iowa. Some reports indicate that as many as 40 million chickens were euthanized because of the outbreak.
“This disease is a game of risks; you want to decrease your risks,” Beyer said. “This is actually a pretty easy virus to beat if you know it’s there and you find it early.”
There has never been a reported case of avian influenza affecting consumer meat. Beyer said one of the reasons for that is because the biosecurity system in the United States is strong: “All birds sent to processing are screened, and if there is any doubt, they are not processed,” he said.
To assure safety of food, consumers are always encouraged to cook poultry and other meat products to the recommended internal temperature. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit for all poultry products.
The risk of human infection due to avian flu is considered low, though the strain found in Tennessee, H7, is one of those that can infect humans.
Poultry producers or others in Kansas who suspect birds are sick should immediately contact a veterinarian. Avoid handling a dead bird to avoid infection. Suspect animals should not be moved from farm to farm.
Additional information may be found on the website for the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Health, https://agriculture.ks.gov/divisions-programs/division-of-animal-health.