On Sunday, March 5, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic H7 avian influenza (HPAI) in a commercial chicken breeder flock in Lincoln County,Tennessee. This is the first confirmed case of HPAI in commercial poultry in the United States this year. Samples from the affected flock, which experienced increased mortality, were tested at Tennessee’s Kord Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory and confirmed at the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa. Virus isolation is ongoing and a control zone has been established.
Since the Tennessee county borders Alabama, portions of Alabama are within the control zone, which includes one commercial Tyson farm. Tyson collected samples from the farm and they have tested negative for avian influenza. The department is adhering to Alabama’s HPAI Preparedness and Response Plan. The first priority is to test commercial poultry, but backyard flocks are also included. State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier dispatched staff professionals to go into the communities (door-to-door) within the control zone on Sunday to collect samples from backyard flocks. Roughly 14 to 15 premises have been inspected and it is estimated that this surveillance is 95 percent complete. This surveillance should be completed by noon today.
Lincoln County Commissioner John McMillan has spoken directly with Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Jai Templeton and assured him that his department staff will continue to work closely with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. “I want to assure all Alabamians that our department will continue our surveillance for avian influenza and approach this incident with an abundance of caution. Every flock of chickens in Alabama is tested for avian influenza before being processed for human consumption,” said Commissioner McMillan.
The facility in Tennessee is under quarantine, along with approximately 30 other poultry farms within a 10 kilometer radius (6.2 miles) of the site. The affected flock has been depopulated to stop potential spread of the illness and officials are testing and monitoring other flocks within the control zone. No other flocks in the control zone have experienced an increase in mortality and the first round of testing has all been negative for avian influenza.
HPAI does not pose a risk to the food supply. No affected animals entered the food chain. The risk of human infection with avian influenza during poultry outbreaks is very low. In fact, no transmission to humans was reported during the outbreak that affected commercial poultry farms in the midwestern United States in 2015. Also, this is not the same strain identified in that outbreak. However, out of an abundance of caution, officials with the Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Department of Agriculture are working together to address concerns about the health of individuals who are working on site or had contact with affected birds.
Alabama State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier has been working closely with Tennessee State Veterinarian Dr. Charlie Hatcher and encourages commercial poultry producers and backyard flock owners to observe their birds closely and continue to practice strict biosecurity measures. These include:
- Isolating birds from other animals
- Wearing clothing designated for use only at the poultry house
- Minimizing access to people and unsanitized equipment
- Keeping the area around the poultry buildings clean and uninviting to wild birds and animals
- Sanitizing the facility between flocks
- Cleaning equipment entering and leaving the farm
- Having an all-in, all-out policy regarding the placement and removal of the poultry
- Properly disposing of bedding material and mortalities
- Avoiding contact with migratory waterfowl
Frazier reminds all poultry owners and producers to strictly adhere to the biosecurity guidelines mentioned above. During this time, backyard flock owners should refrain from moving birds offsite or introducing new birds. The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Poultry Division is available to answer any questions concerning movement of poultry and should be notified at 334-240-6584 if birds show unusual signs of disease (flu-like symptoms) or flocks experience unexplained mortalities.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System has created a website to assist backyard flock owners with maintaining healthy birds and to provide answers for Avian Influenza control. It can be found at www.AlabamaAvianInfluenza.com.