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Missouri and National Farms Face Infections of Avian Flu Strain Among Livestock

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At the beginning of January a case of HPAI Avian Influenza, commonly known as bird flu was found in wild waterfowl in Colleton County, South Carolina.

This would be the first trace of Bird Flu found in the US since 2016.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the strain of bird flu is not considered highly dangerous to people, but it does pose a danger to the poultry industry as it can be easily transmittable among chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese.

Animals housed in confined spaces can easily become exposed to infected bird's feces, or secretions from its nose, mouth or eyes.

Since the first case was found in January, the disease has quickly spread across the country.

As of March 19, just two months after the first case, The US Department of Agriculture reports nearly 12.6 million chicken and turkeys in at least eight states have been killed or will be destroyed soon due to the spread of Avian Influenza.

In early March, the Department of Agriculture reported an outbreak of the bird flu in a commercial flock of chickens being raised for meat in Stoddard County, Missouri. 

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed that the strain of Avian Flu found in Stoddard County was found within a flock of 240,000 broiler chickens.

Missouri officials have quarantined the affected properties. Infected birds will be killed and disposed of to prevent the spread of the disease.

Soon after, The Missouri Department of Conservation confirmed that the Avian Influenza had also been detected in an American white pelican in Clay County, near Kansas City, Missouri.

Christi Miller, Communications Director at the Missouri Department of Agriculture says the probability of the disease’s spread continuing is likely, given its high transmissibility.

“It's difficult to quantify how it does spread, how it spreads from flock to flock and how it spreads from bird to bird to bird, so that's one of the reasons we want to highly encourage producers to keep increasing their biosecurity because it can transfer so easily,” said Miller. “It can transfer through the air, it can also transfer when someone wears the same shoes from barn to barn or if they've been at their neighbor's house and stepped in manure that they bring back to their farm, so it transmits very easily and quickly.”

Because of the accelerated rate at which the disease can spread, contamination can affect food supply detrimentally, growing amounts of waste.

In an attempt to decrease the likelihood of the supply chain being impacted, Miller says officials from the State Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources work to depopulate the infected flocks immediately before reaching the food supply.

“The animals that have tested positive do not reach the food supply. I think some of the fear is that that other poultry is not safe to eat, but that's not the case,” said Miller. “[Infected] Chicken and poultry, and eggs are safe to eat when cooked properly, but it is important that people handle their birds, and also take sanitary precautions with themselves.”

Miller says that in order to slow the spread of the disease, farms across the US are practicing heightened biosecurity measures.

“Folks are doing a good job of staying on their farm, keeping visitors off their farm from potentially bringing the virus from one farm to the other, changing their shoes when they’ve been around their poultry…,” said Miller. “Another big way to keep the virus from spreading is to keep poultry away from water sources where migrating waterfowl may come to, or may come to eat feed, so many backyard producers let their third poultry out during the day.”

According to Miller farmers should also watch their flocks for basic signs of unfamiliar behavior which may be an indication of infection.

“Have their birds gotten quiet, have they stopped eating and drinking? You know when humans don't feel well, we don't want to eat and we don't want to drink, similar to poultry and other animals when they don't feel well,” said Miller. “Then of course, have you seen any unexplained death loss in your birds? If that's the case, then we encourage those producers to call their local veterinarian or to call the Missouri Department of Agriculture for assistance, and we can come test those birds to make sure that they're okay.”

Miller concludes by saying cases of the disease will naturally diminish across the country as farmers continue to practice biosecurity measures.

This is a virus that's coming as the birds are migrating and we hope that it's that it's certainly short term as those birds make their way across the flyway,” In the meantime, we're going to continue to be mindful and watchful across the state and certainly across the entire country,” said Miller.