Bird flu response

Farm Forum

This week’s confirmations of bird flu in southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska show the need for immediate action, U.S. Sen. John Thune said Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, the avian flu isn’t going away,” Thune (R-S.D) told the Press & Dakotan.

The virus has affected two commercial turkey operations in Yankton and Hutchinson counties, according to South Dakota state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven. In addition, the bird flu was confirmed in Dixon County, Nebraska, just across the Missouri River from Clay and Union counties in southeast South Dakota.

These new outbreaks bring the number of affected commercial turkey farms in South Dakota to eight, Oedekoven said. The state doesn’t release the names of affected farms, just the counties in which they sit. However, he confirmed roughly 68,000 growing turkeys at the Yankton County site and 52,000 at the Hutchinson County site.

“The birds (in those two counties) are being destroyed today (Wednesday),” he told the Press & Dakotan.

Oedekoven will update the Animal Industry Board (AIB) on the avian flu outbreak at next week’s AIB meeting. Approximately 465,000 turkeys have been destroyed in South Dakota so far as a result of avian influenza, he said.

Nationwide, more than 32 million birds have been destroyed as a result of avian flu, Thune said.

“We’re doing our best to make sure we stay ahead of the curve in South Dakota,” the senator said.

Thune pointed to the need to battle the bird flu in both the public and private sector.

“We’re doing everything we can to push the (U.S.) Department of Agriculture to put all the available resources toward combatting avian flu,” he said.

The USDA also needs to ensure that foreign markets remain open for American poultry producers, Thune said. Those markets are crucial for South Dakota, which produces 4 million turkeys annually, he said.

The private sector is also working to find ways of heading off the bird flu before it causes further damage, Thune said.

“The poultry industry is reviewing a potential vaccine as a new way of ensuring that this gets stopped and prevented in the future,” he said.

The focus needs to remain on stopping the bird flu and its devastating results for producers and the overall economy, Thune said.

The recently confirmed cases in southeast South Dakota were first detected last week, Oedekoven said.

“Two commercial turkey grower flocks in Yankton and Hutchinson counties reported increased mortality in turkey flocks on Saturday,” he said.

“Samples were collected and tested at the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (ADRDL) in Brookings. The samples tested positive for ‘H5 avian influenza.’ I expect to see additional confirmatory reports from the National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa.”

South Dakota’s previously infected farms were found in Beadle, Kingsbury, McCook, McPherson, Roberts and Spink counties, Oedekoven said. The state follows a standard procedure in each case, including the two most recent ones in the Yankton region, he said.

“The farms have been quarantined and the birds (are) destroyed. A 10-kilometer zone has been established around each farm,” he said. “Animal health officials will be contacting all premises in that area to determine if poultry are present and schedule a time for poultry to be sampled. In all previous investigations in South Dakota, we have not found evidence of virus outside of the affected farm within a control zone.”

In South Dakota, the Animal Industry Board works closely with the poultry industry and individuals with backyard poultry, Oedekoven said. Nationwide, three new strains of avian influenza virus have been found since December in multiple species of birds, both domestic and wild.

In South Dakota and some neighboring states, the H5N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus that has been found most frequently, he said.

“The results from the ADRDL (that are) confirming H5 Avian Influenza is all that is needed at this stage of the outbreak to take action in preventing the spread of the disease,” the state veterinarian said. “Confirmatory testing at NVSL will yield additional information about the H5 virus that has been identified.”

At this time, the H5N2 avian influenza virus has not been found to infect humans, Oedekoven said. Additional information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, he added.

“It’s not a food safety concern,” he said. “The reason for the rapid response in destroying infected birds with this virus is for disease control and humane considerations for the affected birds.”

He encourages anyone with poultry to watch for signs of illness or death loss. Unusual findings should be reported immediately to the state veterinarian’s office at (605) 773-3321.

“While a large number of birds have already been affected, we continue to attempt to keep it from becoming established in our domestic poultry population,” he said.

“Early reporting and diagnostics are the best tools to accomplish this goal.”