April 26, 2020

Avian Flu Found in U.S. Commercial Turkeys

Avian Flu Found in U.S. Commercial Turkeys

On April 9th, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the presence of H7N3, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in commercial turkeys in Chesterfield County, South Carolina.

This influenza is thought to have mutated from a low pathogenic strain that was previously found in poultry in the area. This is the first case of HPAI strain in the United States since 2017. “Our scientists at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory had looked at the virus characteristics of the low path virus and they had previously indicated that this was one that was probably likely to mutate so they were watching it very closely,” Lyndsay Cole, a spokeswoman for APHIS, told PBS.

The avian influenza is caused by influenza type A virus that can infect poultry and is carried by free flying waterfowl. Avian influenza viruses are further classified by their pathogenicity (low or high), as the ability of a particular virus strain to produce disease in domestic poultry.

“Yes, it’s concerning when we see cases, but we are prepared to respond very quickly and that was done in this case,” said Cole. APHIS did not state how many turkeys were infected but indicated that the incident was reported to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and international trading partners. According to Feedstuff, OIE noted that 43,160 birds were infected (1,583 died, the remaining discarded). State officials have quarantined the affected property and depopulated the poultry to prevent the spread. Birds from this flock will not enter the food system.

In 2017, two flocks in Tennessee were found to have H7N9 HPAI, and in 2016, a small outbreak of H7N8 occurred in Indiana. The largest, most recent, outbreak of HPAI was across the upper Midwest in 2014-2015, where at least 200 cases were reported, and around 50 million commercial and backyard poultry, as well as wild birds, died.

There is no immediate public health concern due to no reported human cases of H7N3. Cole also stated that the current COVID-19 pandemic has not affected the government’s ability to handle the outbreak. APHIS reminds the public to properly handle and cook poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 F to kill bacteria and viruses.

Bird owners are reminded to continue to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State and Federal officials, either through their state veterinarian or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593. Additional information on biosecurity can be found here.