Tennessee Department of Agriculture gives update on bird flu outbreak

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LINCOLN COUNTY, Ala. -- More than 30 Tennessee Valley poultry farms are under quarantine after federal inspectors confirmed highly pathogenic bird flu at a Lincoln County facility.  The facility is a commercial chicken breeder for Tyson.

The investigation into the bird flu outbreak is ongoing. It will be several weeks before they find out how it started, but wild birds could be a factor. For now, officials are focusing on containment.

"Our main concentration is to get it under control, and we feel pretty good about that part now for this particular location," said Tennessee State Veterinarian Dr. Charles Hatcher.

This strain is a highly pathogenic virus among the birds called H7. As soon as the farmers noticed increased mortality rates among the chickens, they took action.

"They contacted us right away and that's what we want to happen. That's what did happen in this case, so we got right on it," said Dr. Hatcher.

Almost 74,000 birds were housed at the location in question. All of those birds had to be euthanized. The incubation period is about a week. 30 other farms in a ten-mile radius have been quarantined as a precaution.

"The first round of tests for the ten-mile radius were all negative, so we're encouraged by that. But testing will be ongoing," Hatcher explained. The testing will be at least for the next several weeks pending continued negative results.

The birds at the farm in question were hatching birds. There are no food risks from this outbreak, and the only humans with low risk to the virus are the employees at the farm and investigators.

Dr. Mary Chorney Carter is a Fayetteville Animal Clinic veterinarian. She said this outbreak is an opportunity to see that there is good surveillance going on among food production in the area.

"There's a lot of checks and balances, and there are folks that are highly trained. Not your average down the road veterinary clinic. They work for the USDA and the state, that come down and immediately see to that farm," she explained.

At the first signs of bird flu, they take immediate precautions.

"They swab the inside of the bird's mouth, looking for the virus. That's sent to a lab, but even before the test is confirmed that farm would be quarantined," she said.

Dr. Carter said there is very little risk to humans.

"In some people it may just be a little bit of conjunctivitis, an eye infection, pink eye kind of thing. So it doesn't normally make people very, sick," she said.

She said if you have backyard chickens contact your local veterinarian immediately if you see any symptoms.

"Be on the lookout for any change in appetite, any birds that may have discharge from their nostrils, because it is kind of a respiratory thing," she explained.