It’s been a few years since a widespread avian flu outbreak hit U.S. poultry farmers hard, prompting national egg shortages and higher prices for products. Farmers are starting to get worried again, after a highly contagious strain of the flu has been found in a commercial chicken flock in Tennessee.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic H7 avian influenza in the chicken breeder flock of 73,500 birds, marking the first confirmed case of avian flu in commercial poultry in the country this year. Before this case, the last incident of bird flu was reported on a commercial turkey farm in Indiana in 2016.
The USDA says it is working with Tennessee state officials to isolate the virus. The birds have been quarantined — along with approximately 30 other poultry farms within a 10 six-mile radius — and any infected with the flu will be destroyed to prevent them from entering the food system.
It’s important to contain the disease’s spread, especially as Tennessee shares borders with several large chicken-meat producing states, Bloomberg points out, including Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and North Carolina.
Federal and state officials continue to watch bird flocks — both commercial and migratory wild birds — and test them to identify avian flu.
“Animal health is our top priority,” Charles Hatcher, Tennessee’s state veterinarian, said in a statement. “With this HPAI detection, we are moving quickly and aggressively to prevent the virus from spreading.”
Because wild birds sick with avian flu might not look sick, officials warn people to avoid contact with sick/dead poultry or wildlife. If you do touch something, wash your hands with soap and water and change clothing before having any contact with healthy domestic poultry and birds.
This strain of the flu is different than another strain, H5N6, that is currently wreaking havoc in Asia and Europe. Again, scientists are closely watching migratory birds for any sign that the disease has traveled to the U.S.