The news that a new strain of avian influenza (H7N8) was detected on an Indiana turkey farm last week has alarmed those in agriculture about the prospect of another devastating outbreak of bird flu. Dr. TJ Myers, associate deputy administrator, for USDA's APHIS Veterinary Service, updated producers on the situation during Monday's AgriTalk.
2015 Lesson Learned: Depopulate Quickly
The H7N8 strain of avian influenza is of North American lineage, according to Myers. That's different from the 2015 virus, which was a Eurasian version. This new “homegrown” strain was first found in the highly pathogenic form on a large turkey farm in Dubois County, Indiana on Friday. Around 60,000 birds were immediately depopulated at the site.
“One of the lessons learned from 2015 outbreak is that we need to depopulate rather quickly to keep the virus spreading to additional farms,” Myers says.
Surveillance was conducted in a six-mile radius, a best practice, explains Myers. According to the State Board of Animal Health, there were 65 farms within this surveillance area. On Saturday, nine more farms were found to be carrying a low pathogenic, or less deadly, form of the virus. Those farms have also begun the depopulation process, which will bring the total number of birds lost in this outbreak to around 400,000, according to Myers.
Listen to Myers on AgriTalk below:
Outbreak Slows Poultry Exports
Several countries which import American poultry have already restricted access, according to Myers. South Korea has banned any poultry from the U.S. to enter its borders.
“The good news is that Mexico, Canada and Japan have agreed to only restrict birds from the state of Indiana,” Myers says. “Going forward, we can work with those countries to restrict birds at the county level.”
The European Union is only restricting birds grown in Dubois County.
“Poultry flocks in the surrounding area are being tested daily for the presence of avian influenza,” the Indiana State Board of Animal Health said in a statement. “State and federal agencies are working alongside the poultry operations to minimize the impact and eliminate the disease.”
Poultry companies have expanded surveillance and testing far beyond the standard distance in hopes of stopping the outbreak quickly. “The goal is to identify any new cases quickly and respond to the quickly to stop any spread of the virus,” Myers says.
No additional cases have been reported since Saturday.
Surveillance will continue for some time, according to Myers. As the depopulation efforts finish up, he says attention turns to the recovery of the birds, which are composted for 28 days. The final step is virus elimination and decontamination which Myers says will “help the producers get back into production as soon as possible.”
Is there a vaccine for this new strain on the horizon? Possibly. According to Myers, officials hope to stop this outbreak before needing a vaccine, but one might be produced.
“There are H7 vaccines that are licensed, and we are currently looking at the genetics of this virus to see if there are any similarities,” he says adding, “since we have a low-path virus from this outbreak, that virus that could be used to create a vaccine.”
Avian influenza cannot be spread to humans, but APHIS is keeping an eye on all employees involved in the process as a precaution.
“Avian influenza viruses are ones that can mutate,” he says. “We are working with public health to make sure all folks involved in this response are monitored for signs of illness.”