Bird Flu Outbreak at Tyson Supplier Prompts USDA to Kill 73,500 Chickens

Dan Flynn

For the fourth year in a row, high­ly path­o­gen­ic H7 avian flu has struck birds in the Unit­ed States.

A Lin­coln Coun­ty, Tenn., poul­try farm that sup­plies Tyson Foods took the brunt of avian flu’s return, when 73,500 chick­ens had to be destroyed to pre­vent them from enter­ing the food sup­ply or spread­ing the virus. Anoth­er 30 farms with­in a 10-mile radius are under quarantine. 

The USDA’s Nation­al Vet­eri­nary Ser­vices Lab­o­ra­to­ries (NVSL) is quick to cau­tion the pub­lic that the H7 avian bird flu” being expe­ri­enced in Ten­nessee is of the North Amer­i­can wild bird linage, a virus that is genet­i­cal­ly dis­tinct from the Chi­na H7N9 lin­eage that has infect­ed both poul­try and peo­ple in Asia.

An epi­demi­o­log­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tion is under­way to deter­mine the source of the cur­rent out­break in the Unit­ed States. The U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture and the Ten­nessee Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture worked togeth­er on the large bird kill and bur­ial of chick­ens from the Tyson contractor’s farm.

Mean­while, a low­er path­o­gen­ic H5N8 bird flu has also been con­firmed in Wisconsin.

USDA has been on the front lines of the avian flu cri­sis since late 2014 when the virus­es first struck flocks in this coun­try. After burn­ing through­out 2015, the sit­u­a­tion improved in ear­ly 2016 when the virus prob­lem melt­ed away with spring.

Dur­ing the cri­sis, USDA per­fect­ed rapid test­ing and response to such inci­dents, which involves state and local offi­cials and the indus­try. Sur­veil­lance and test­ing with­in the 10-mile radius of the Ten­nessee farm continues.

Tyson Foods offi­cials say they do not expect the company’s poul­try busi­ness to be impact­ed. But, the Spring­field, Ark., com­pa­ny did see its stock take a $1.61 hit when news of the avian flu first got out. It also prompt­ed Japan and Sin­ga­pore to at least tem­porar­i­ly ban poul­try from both Ten­nessee and Wis­con­sin, areas of the Unit­ed States expe­ri­enc­ing avian flu. Hong Kong, South Korea and Tai­wan have also put a halt on U.S. poul­try imports to those countries.

Gov­ern­ments are cau­tious about avian flu because such virus­es in rare cir­cum­stances could cross over to become infec­tious for humans. It was a dead­ly flu pan­dem­ic dur­ing and after World War I that result­ed in more deaths than the con­flict itself.

The sud­den return of the bird flu to the Unit­ed States has again under­lined the need for poul­try oper­a­tions to up their biose­cu­ri­ty game, accord­ing to both gov­ern­ment and indus­try experts. USDA’s pro­gram to help is called Defend the Flock.”

Accord­ing to the World Orga­ni­za­tion for Ani­mal Health (OIE), 13 strains of Avian flu were detect­ed in 77 coun­tries from Jan­u­ary 2014 through the end of 2016. Count­less birds — both wild and domes­tic — had to be destroyed. The Unit­ed States was get­ting a break from bird flu, but not Asia and Europe. As more out­breaks have occurred, coun­tries have had to make adjust­ments in their poul­try sources.

OIE says the var­i­ous strains of avian influen­za mean bird flu must viewed as a glob­al pub­lic health threat.

The U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC) in Jan­u­ary warned U.S trav­el­ers to Chi­na to avoid live poul­try mar­kets because of an out­break of H7N9 avian influen­za. China’s out­break has racked up at least 229 human victims.

The CDC did not rec­om­mend against trav­el to Chi­na, but sug­gest not going near poul­try while vis­it­ing Chi­na, main­ly by stay­ing away from poul­try mar­kets and farms. Hong Kong and Macau along with Jiang­su, Fujian and Guang­dong are among the oth­er areas of Chi­na where peo­ple have been treat­ed for infec­tions from the bird flu virus. There is no vac­cine for H7N9.

(“USDA kills 73,500 Tyson-bound chick­ens because of bird flu” was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished on food​safe​tynews​.com.)

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Dan Fly­nn is a Den­ver-based writer and edi­tor with more than ten years of food safe­ty expe­ri­ence. As a pub­lic affairs pro­fes­sion­al, he worked with gov­ern­ment and reg­u­la­to­ry agen­cies at the local, state, and fed­er­al lev­els. His career as a jour­nal­ist includ­ed work­ing for news­pa­pers through­out the West, from the Black Hills to Seat­tle. His on-scene report­ing on the col­lapse of the Idaho’s Teton Dam and the sui­cide bomb­ing at Wash­ing­ton State University’s Per­ham Hall was car­ried by news­pa­pers around the world and was rec­og­nized both times region­al­ly by the Asso­ci­at­ed Press for Best Report­ing on a Dead­line. Most of the dis­as­ters he attends these days involve food illnesses.
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