U.S. State Officials Knock on Doors to Stop Spread of Bird Flu

From Minnesota to Arkansas, state officials are knocking on doors and quarantining areas in a fight to stop the spread of the biggest U.S. bird-flu outbreak on record.

After a strain of the highly contagious variety of avian influenza was detected in Boone County, Arkansas, last week, state officials are checking backyard birds at every address in a 10-kilometer zone around the infected flock, according to Bruce Holland, director of the state’s Livestock and Poultry Commission in Little Rock. Animals will be tested twice to ensure they are negative for the virus, he said.

In Minnesota and Missouri, officials are following similar procedures, with increased restrictions on moving poultry. The spread of bird flu prompted limits on American poultry-meat shipments into China, the European Union and Mexico, the biggest buyer of U.S. chicken and turkey. Tyson Foods Inc. and Sanderson Farms Inc. are reinforcing precautions on their flocks.

“We’re constantly looking at ways to improve what we do,” Holland said. “Our state veterinarian is working closely with” the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he said.

Minnesota, Missouri and Arkansas, which fall along a migratory bird route known as the Mississippi flyway, reported cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza this month in commercial turkey flocks, according to the USDA. Kansas last week confirmed bird flu in a backyard mixed poultry flock, the first finding in the Central flyway. Additional cases were reported beginning in December in the western part of the country. It’s the biggest U.S. outbreak since records begin in 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

‘Isolated Incident’

After detection of the disease in Pope County, Minnesota, officials tested animals at thirty sites with backyard birds within 10 kilometers of the infected flock, according to Bethany Hahn, communications director for the state’s Board of Animal Health in St. Paul. All tests so far have been negative.

“It has been an isolated incident at this point,” Hahn said on Monday.

In Missouri, the two turkey facilities that reported influenza in Jasper and Moniteau counties were immediately quarantined, according to an e-mail from Sarah Alsager, a public information officer for the state’s agriculture department. There are restrictions on moving poultry and poultry products within a radius of 10 kilometers surrounding each site, she said.

Minnesota and Arkansas were the two largest turkey producers last year, based on the number of young birds slaughtered, USDA data show. Arkansas was the third-largest chicken producer.

The virus is not expected to pose a human health risk, according to a statement from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

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