Turkeys affected by avian flu in Steele Co.

Published 9:00 am Sunday, May 3, 2015

By Ashley Stewart, Owatonna People’s Press

OWATONNA — About 96,700 turkeys have been affected by avian flu in Steele County, according to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health on Thursday.

The USDA confirmed the presence of H5N2 HPAI, also known as avian influenza, in Steele County on Wednesday, making it one of 19 Minnesota counties where the virus has been detected.

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County officials released a statement late Wednesday afternoon stating the detected flock is currently under quarantine and that all commercial flocks within a 10 kilometer area — about 6.2 miles — will be under surveillance.

The statement did not identify where the flock was located, indicate how many birds were infected or say if the birds had been destroyed.

Bethany Hahn, Minnesota Board of Animal Health communications director, said Thursday the location of the affected flock in Steele County is private under state law.

According to USDA’s Census of Agriculture, Steele County had 416,487 turkeys on 10 farms in 2012, so the affected flock accounts for about 23 percent of the county’s turkey population and about 2 percent of the state’s 19.4 million turkey population.

Hahn said she was unsure if the affected flock in Steele County had been euthanized early Thursday afternoon.

“If they haven’t, they will be,” she said. “It’s a preventative measure.”

A statement from county officials released Thursday afternoon said, “State and local emergency management officials are working in collaboration with Steele County officials and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, the USDA and several other state and federal agencies to work alongside poultry producers to eliminate the influenza within affected flocks.”

It also stated an incident action plan, which includes appraisal and indemnity agreements for depopulation of poultry that remain on the premises.

“After depopulation of the flock, all turkey carcasses on the affected farms are composted inside the barn,” the statement said. “This process takes approximately one month to complete.”

Wild birds are believed to be behind the first major widespread outbreak of bird flu in the United States — an outbreak that has hit Minnesota especially hard.

The H5N2 virus has cost Midwestern turkey and chicken producers more than 13 million birds since early March, including several new cases announced in Iowa and Minnesota on Monday.

Disease experts believe a portion of the virus came from European and Asian strains of bird flu that readily cause illness and death in birds. That portion is believed to have mixed with a North American strain that was less likely to cause severe illness as birds from different regions crossed migratory paths.

Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton declared a peacetime emergency to deal with the growing avian influenza attacking turkey flocks across dozens of farms.

At the time, at least 2.6 million birds already had been killed to stop the highly infectious virus from further devastating Minnesota poultry.

“Obviously, we’re worried,” Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said at the time. “There’s no question about it.”

On Tuesday, USA Today reported that the outbreak had spread to Iowa and was beginning to show signs of ebbing in Minnesota. Minnesota had reported only one new case from Friday until Tuesday, it reported.

But even as that report came out, the USDA confirmed the case in Steele County.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health reported bird flu has affected nearly 4 million birds in 70 farms in 19 counties.

Appraisals have been completed for 65 of the affected farms, birds on 62 of the affected farms have been euthanized and the composting process is underway on 56 of the affected farms, according to Board of Animal Health.

“This is a difficult time for poultry growers,” Hahn said.

Since bird flu arrived in Minnesota, poultry producers have been enhancing biosecurity measures to protect their flocks, and Hahn said that is still encouraged.

And if producers notice the following things in their flock, they’re encouraged to report it immediately:

Unusual or high death loss

Influenza-like signs such as nasal secretions, puffy eyes, ruffled feathers or a drop in egg production

Loss of appetite with decreased food and water consumption

Paralysis and other nervous signs

Lack of vocalization

The avian flu outbreak has brought up discussions among Minnesota State Fair officials about whether the poultry exhibition should be sidelined this year but haven’t acted on it yet.

State Fair officials will decide by early to mid-summer whether to cancel the exhibit amid fears that bringing exhibition birds together in one location could further spread the virus. The State Fair opens Aug. 27, following county fairs that get underway in mid-June.

Officials say it’s much too early to give up on one of its most popular animal exhibits, but they have been watching the situation closely and consulting with animal health experts since the first case of avian flu appeared in early March.

Jim Gleason, secretary-manager of the Steele County Free Fair, said the Steele County Fair Board hasn’t discussed the effect of avian flu on its poultry exhibitions yet but plan to talk about it next week.

Avian influenza or bird flu is a virus that infects domestic poultry, such as chickens, turkeys, quail and geese. It is a virus that can infect humans and many animal species. However, the Minnesota Department of Health reports no human infections with this strain of the virus have been detected in Minnesota or anywhere else in the country.

Minnesota Board of Animal Health hotlines for avian flu are 888-702-9963 for general questions, 320-214-6700 ext. 3804 or 866-536-7593 to report sick or dead poultry, and 888-646-6367 to report sick or dead wild birds.


The Associated Press and Minnesota Public Radio News contributed to this article. Minnesota Public Radio News can be heard in Albert Lea on 90.1 FM or online at MPRnews.org.