The Tennessee Department of Agriculture announced on Sunday that a strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), informally known as bird flu, was detected in a commercial chicken flock in Lincoln County in southern Middle Tennessee.
The Department of Agriculture was alerted to an increase in the number of chicken deaths at a commercial facility on March 3. Subsequent state and federal testing revealed the presence of H7 HPAI in the facility’s flock.
According to a news release from the Department of Agriculture, the targeted facility is currently under quarantine, as are approximately 30 other poultry farms in the area. Officials are monitoring flocks within the quarantined area and "depopulating" the infected flock. So far, no other flocks have shown the increases in mortality associated with the disease.
Agriculture officials put down more than 73,000 chickens at the facility, which is a supplier for Tyson Foods.
The Department of Agriculture said HPAI does not pose a risk to the food supply. The news release stated that none of the affected animals have entered the food chain and that the risk of human infection is currently very low.
"This is highly pathogenic for birds, it's not for us one bit. This is not for humans at all," said Dr. Lou Strickland, a veterinarian with the University of Tennessee Extension. “You’d have to physically have contact with the sick animal to actually have any transfer of disease."
Dr. Charles Hatcher, the state veterinarian, said the state is working to contain the virus.
“Animal health is our top priority,” Hatcher said. “We are moving quickly and aggressively to prevent the virus from spreading.”
“The issue, quickly as it was found, was dealt with. It was contained within an area," Strickland added.
State Commissioner of Agriculture Jai Templeton said in the release that while the situation is not desirable, the state has made the proper preparations.
“Although this is a situation that no state wants to face, Tennessee has been actively preparing to respond to HPAI since it was first identified as a threat,” Templeton said. "We have a plan that we have practiced and fine-tuned for years with the help of federal, local and state partners to stop the spread of this virus as quickly as possible."
This is the first outbreak of HPAI, which is marked by high death rates, in Tennessee. Previous Tennessee flocks have been detected with low pathogen avian influenza in the past.
The source of the bird flu outbreak in Lincoln County has not yet been identified. The Department of Agriculture is urging owners of poultry flocks to observe their birds and report any sudden increases in the number of sick or dead birds to the state veterinarian’s office at 615-837-5120 or the USDA at 1-866-536-7593.