New strain of avian flu confirmed in Indiana poultry flocks

Courtesy of David Goehring CC BY 2.0

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and state-based agencies have spent months preparing for a possible return of the highly pathogenic form of avian flu, H5N2, but they weren't prepared for what emerged just before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day--a new strain of the virus. The strain, H7N8, has been confirmed at one Indiana poultry farm and may have hit 9 others. It is the first sign of avian flu to emerge since the H5N2 outbreak caused the loss of 48 million turkeys and chickens last year.

The new virus was first identified at a turkey farm in Dubois County, IN, where 60,000 birds have been culled, according to the Associated Press. The Indiana Board of Animal Health said in a press release on January 16 that birds on 9 additional farms had tested positive for highly pathogenic avian flu, and that further testing was underway to confirm the strain of virus found.

H7N8 has been detected in wild birds in the U.S. before, but the USDA determined the strain to be not highly pathogenic and unlikely to sicken the animals, according to Tech Times. T.J. Myers, associate deputy administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told the publication that the agency still doesn't know exactly what caused last year's outbreak of H5N2, but that biosecurity measures were put in place that he believes will prevent the new strain from getting out of control.

Myers added that the agency is in touch with overseas trading partners, in the hopes of avoiding a blanket ban on poultry imports. Several countries implemented trade restrictions last year, including Mexico, Canada and the European Union.

Any such ban could be a detriment for Indiana poultry producers. Poultry farming is a $2.5 million industry in the state, according to the AP, and Dubois County is the top producer there. All of the new infections have been found near the original farm where the virus was first identified, the Indiana Board of Animal Health confirmed.

The outbreak comes just one month after officials in Ohio and Minnesota, which were hard hit by avian flu last year, lifted quarantines and bans on bird shows that had been put in place to try to limit the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, the USDA continues to implement an avian flu containment plan that includes stricter biosecurity practices, improved detection and faster culling of infected flocks.

The agency is also stockpiling vaccines made by Ceva Animal Health and Harrisvaccines. That won't help poultry producers in Indiana, though. The vaccine protects against the original strain, H5N2, not the new virus.

- access the Indiana Board of Animal Health press release here
- here's the AP story
- get more at Tech Times