Avian influenza confirmed in two Minnesota poultry flocks

Bird Flu
A flock of young turkeys stand in a barn at an Iowa farm in 2015. Highly pathogenic avian influenza has been confirmed in two poultry flocks in Minnesota -- including a commercial turkey flock -- the state Board of Animal Health announced Saturday.
Charlie Neibergall | AP file

Highly pathogenic avian influenza has been confirmed in two poultry flocks in Minnesota, the state Board of Animal Health announced Saturday.

The agency said the affected poultry flocks are a commercial flock of nearly 300,000 turkeys in Meeker County, and a backyard flock of 17 chickens, ducks and geese in Mower County. Samples collected from both flocks were tested on March 25 and confirmed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The state Board of Animal Health said they're the first confirmed cases in Minnesota in 2022.

Back in 2015, 9 million birds in Minnesota were killed by the virus, or euthanized to slow its spread. The virus is believed to be spread by migrating waterfowl in the spring.

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Poultry producers in the state had been on high alert for weeks, and taking steps to increase biosecurity, after the virus was detected in neighboring states, including Iowa and South Dakota.

Officials cautioned that the appearance of avian flu in a backyard flock is a key difference from the 2015 outbreak.

"We are prepared to make sure this outbreak stays small,” said Dr. Jill Nezworski, a poultry veterinarian and a board member of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. “And I want to remind all poultry owners that biosecurity takes 100 percent commitment, 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

State animal health officials have quarantined the two properties in Minnesota. All birds in those flocks will be destroyed and will not enter the food system, officials said.

“These are the first cases of HPAI in the state of Minnesota since 2015,” Dr. Dale Lauer, poultry program director for the Board of Animal Health, said in a news release. “Poultry producers and backyard flock owners need to be on alert and contact their veterinarian immediately if they see any changes in their flocks. Everyone in poultry facilities needs to follow the site’s biosecurity protocols every time to prevent the spread of disease.”

Minnesota health and agriculture officials said on a media call on Saturday afternoon that the state is better positioned to respond to avian flu, after the major outbreak in 2015.

“We have a really robust emergency response plan in place because of the lessons learned from that experience,” said Dr. Beth Thompson, state veterinarian and the executive director of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. “We have an incident management team that has already been stood up. We have folks in our counties … that have been in the loop and helped with that planning.”

Avian influenza is an airborne respiratory virus that spreads easily among chickens through nasal and eye secretions, as well as manure. The virus can spread from flock to flock by wild birds, through contact with infected poultry.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the recent bird flu detections do not present an immediate public health concern.

After the 2015 outbreak, the USDA reported the virus caused a drop in egg and turkey production and higher prices for consumers.