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Bird Flu Confirmed In Two Missouri Flocks

File: Amy Mayer
Harvest Public Media

A highly contagious strain of bird flu has officially made its way to the Midwest.

The disease was confirmed Tuesday in two separate commercial turkey flocks in Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the USDA.

Investigators also found an infected flock in Arkansas, the USDA said Wednesday (PDF). Arkansas is the nation’s third-largest turkey producer and the home of the world’s largest chicken company, Tyson Foods.

The virus, called H5N2 Avian Influenza, is not a threat to human health, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But the strain of flu found in Missouri is the same that had been previously found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Minnesota.

In Missouri, State agriculture officials said they quarantined infected flocks and say the birds “will not enter the food system.” Richard Fordyce, the director of the Missouri Agriculture Department, says regulators are working to get the outbreak under control.

"We hope we have maybe seen the end of it," Fordyce said. "But it would be impossible to predict what might happen next."

The Kansas Department of Agriculture says it is monitoring flocks for signs of the virus.

After the disease was found in flocks in the Northwest, China and South Korea banned the import of all U.S. poultry products. Other countries have instituted bans on products from specific U.S. states or regions in response to avian flu concerns.

Missouri farmers produce more than a billion dollars-worth of turkeys and chickens every year. Many poultry products are exported.

"It’s devastating to the producers it happens to," Fordyce said. "Fortunately, there’s not much of a risk to human health, so that’s obviously a good thing."

The Kansas Department of Agriculture says it is monitoring flocks for signs of the virus.

The strain of avian flu is thought to spread mostly through contact with infected wild birds. The virus’ discovery in Missouri is significant, according to Politico, “as Missouri lies in the middle of the Mississippi Flyway, a bird migratory pattern that follows the Mississippi River in the United States and the Mackenzie River in Canada.”

Biosecurity can keep poultry flocks healthy, which is vital to the $44 billion dollar U.S. poultry and egg industry. Day-to-day precautions such as limiting contact between poultry farms and disinfecting the boots of workers as they go in and out of barns can help.

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