Knox County, Nebraska, facility hit by bird flu

Farm Forum

A Knox County, Nebraska, flock of 3 million hens has been detected with bird flu, according to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA).

The farm marks the fourth case of highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza (HPAI) in Nebraska, bringing the total to 7 million birds for the Husker State, NDA officials said in a news release.

It also marks the third case in the immediate Yankton area.

The Knox County farm is owned by the same operator as the three previously-announced Nebraska cases in Dixon County, Nebraska. Those three cases involve 3.5 million laying hens and a flock of 500,000 pullets (young hens).

The Knox County location is approximately 50 miles from the three Dixon County locations.

A response team is in Knox County to address the finding, according to Nebraska Agriculture Director Greg Ibach. The team includes federal, state and local officials.

“I cannot stress enough the importance for all Nebraska poultry facility operators to ensure they maintain the strictest of biosecurity measures,” he said. “That means strictly limiting the traffic, both humans and vehicles, into and out of facilities in an effort to avoid any cross-contamination.”

The Knox County facility was placed under NDA quarantine on May 27 following a preliminary positive test for avian flu. NDA officials expect a federal laboratory will confirm the findings today (Thursday).

A perimeter has been established around the Knox County site, as was done with the three Dixon County sites, and the birds will be depopulated. In compliance with USDA regulations, state officials will visit all locations within 6.2 miles of the Knox County site and conduct testing.

The Knox County case marks the second bird flu detection in northeast Nebraska within a week.

After preliminary testing, Nebraska Department of Agriculture officials confirmed on May 22 the presence of a third case of bird flu in Dixon County. The third farm, referred to as Dixon 3, is within a mile of the first farm, referred to as Dixon 1.

Dixon 3 is a flock of 500,000 pullets (young hens). Dixon 1 and Dixon 2, announced the previous week, collectively have 3.5 million laying hens.

“These farms are in proximity to each other so this finding, while unfortunate, is not unexpected,” Ibach said. “We continue to receive great support from our federal, state and local partners, as well as from the operator, as we work to control the spread of the virus.”

All three Dixon County sites were placed under quarantine. Dixon 3’s close location to the other facilities means a significant overlap of the 6.2 mile radius for each site, state officials said.

Dixon 1, Dixon 2 and the Knox County facility are egg laying facilities, therefore the chickens are not consumed by humans, NDA officials noted. The eggs from these facilities undergo pasteurization, eliminating risks from consuming the eggs, the state officials added.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is working with local health departments and the producer to interview workers about their possible exposure and to monitor them, if needed.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts issued a state emergency declaration May 12. The declaration provides the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and other state agencies with needed resources.

The northeast Nebraska bird flu detections come on the heels of May 9 detections at commercial turkey farms in Yankton and Hutchinson counties in southeast South Dakota. Those two counties are located across the border from the detections in Knox and Dixon counties.

The two South Dakota outbreaks bought the number of affected commercial turkey farms in South Dakota to eight at the time, said state veterinarian Dr. Dustin Oedekoven. The state doesn’t release the names of affected farms, just the counties in which they are located. However, he confirmed roughly 68,000 growing turkeys at the Yankton County site and 52,000 at the Hutchinson County site.

Oedekoven updated the South Dakota Animal Industry Board (SDAIB) on the avian flu outbreak during the board’s recent meeting. Approximately 465,000 turkeys had been destroyed in South Dakota as a result of avian influenza, he said.

In response to the avian flu, the SDAIB issued a board order May 21 suspending all South Dakota bird exhibitions until further notice. The action was taken as a precautionary measure to minimize the risk of further spreading the virus.

As a result of the order, all 4-H poultry shows in South Dakota are suspended until further notice. If the suspension is lifted, the state 4-H office will work with the SDAIB to develop a timely plan. Members are still encouraged to complete the ownership and identification requirements for poultry projects.

The risk to the public related to the virus is very low and is not considered a food safety concern, Oedekoven said.

“This (AIB order) is a precautionary measure needed to protect the poultry industry and backyard owners from a devastating disease,” he said. “The (AIB) is taking this action to control potential disease transmission.”

No human cases have been associated with the avian flu, according to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture news release. Proper handling and cooking of poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees kills the virus.

All Nebraska poultry producers are asked to monitor their flocks for symptoms and to notify the NDA immediately if they detect any signs of the disease, Ibach said.

The state, federal and industry response to the avian flu follows five steps, according to the NDA news release. The process includes: quarantine of the poultry area; eradication of the birds through humane methods; monitoring the region and testing birds; disinfecting the area to kill the virus; and testing to confirm the poultry farm is free of the bird flu virus.

All bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, should prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, NDA officials said. Sick birds and unusual bird deaths can be reported to state and federal officials by calling the NDA at (877) 800-4080 or the USDA at (866) 536-7593.