By Stan Maddux
INDIANAPOLIS – A wall, of sorts, has been built to try to contain the highly contagious avian influenza detected at an Indiana commercial turkey farm.
A quarantine was imposed on 18 commercial poultry farms within a six-mile radius of where roughly 100 turkeys infected by the H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) were found dead in Dubois County.
According to USDA, it’s the first confirmed return of the avian flu in Indiana since 2016, when more than 400,000 birds on 11 Dubois County poultry farms were lost to the virus.
It’s the first time avian flu has been confirmed in the nation since 2020, said USDA.
Dubois County, in the southwestern part of the state, is Indiana’s largest poultry producing county, said Denise Derrer Spears, communications director for the Indiana State Board of Animal Health.
She said Indiana is the third leading producer of turkeys in the nation and first in duck production.
Indiana also ranks second in production of egg-laying chickens and table eggs.
Spears said the bird flu was confirmed in a laboratory after a veterinarian was contacted by the farm about the dead turkeys and other turkeys showing classic symptoms, such as drinking less water.
She said all 29,000 turkeys on the farm were being euthanized to help keep from the virus from spreading.
“There is no cure for this disease and the only way to deal with it is all of the birds on the property need to be depopulated,” she said.
According to USDA, none of the turkeys will enter the food supply and no human cases of avian flu have ever been confirmed in the country.
Spears said farms within the quarantined area must have their birds tested weekly. As of press time, no birds on any of the other quarantined farms have tested positive. She said the weekly tests must occur until the quarantine is lifted. When that will be is not known.
“This is going to take several weeks. We don’t have an exact timeline on it,” Spears said.
Before lifting the quarantine, Spears said all euthanized turkeys must be disposed and the affected farm has to undergo an extensive cleaning.
Cleaning involves removal of all organic matter such as turkey waste, feed and bedding. The barns will also be disinfected and tested to make sure the virus is not present before being restocked
She said cleaning is necessary because wild ducks and geese can become infected at a farm and spread the virus in their droppings.
Humans can spread it, such as in the organic matter on the bottom of their shoes and on their clothing.
Spears said an attempt will be made later to determine how the virus made its way onto the farm.
“We’ll be looking at the epidemiology as we go forward. Our main priority is just to contain it at this moment so that we don’t have another spread,” she said.
Consuming an infected bird is not considered a health risk to humans because avian flu is not found in the meat.
However, Spears said swift and thorough action is taken to prevent spread because of how quickly the virus can decimate poultry populations on farms.
Countries importing poultry from the United States could also decide to stop their purchases to avoid a negative public perception of sick birds in their homelands.
Spears said many of the turkeys in Dubois County are exported outside the United States.
“It has potential for major impact on the Indiana agricultural economy,” she said.
Spears said the affected farm qualifies for a payment from USDA to help cover the loss of the turkeys and could receive financial assistance from USDA to offset some of the clean-up costs.