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Flu hits commercial bird farm in Weakley County

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A chicken farm in rural Weakley County fell victim to the highly devastating avian influenza, often referred to as “bird flu.” The detection was reported by the Tennessee state veterinarian. It was discovered in a flock of broiler chickens at the farm.

The farm, which raises commercial chickens on the outskirts of Greenfield, is the fifth location in Weakley County where the H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been detected, according to a news release issued by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture on Jan. 20. According to the state department, as of January, Weakley County has seen an impact of the avian flu to 91,400 poultry.

Following a sudden spike in bird deaths, lab tests confirmed the presence of H5N1. HPAI is a highly transmissible disease known to be deadly for domesticated fowl. Fowl can be exposed to HPAI through human interactions and through contact with wild birds.

Animal health officials have established a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) control zone surrounding the affected facility. Within the zone, poultry will be tested and monitored for illness and poultry movement requires permitting until the zone is released. Animal health staff are contacting poultry owners within the control zone to answer questions and provide information. If you have concerns about your location, please email [email protected] or call 615-837-5120 and staff will help determine if your flock is within the zone.

Since September of 2022, HPAI cases in Tennessee have sickened domesticated chickens, geese, ducks, and turkeys in Bledsoe, Davidson, Obion, Tipton, and Weakley Counties. HPAI has also been found in wild birds, including ducks, geese, vultures, and eagles in Tennessee.

“Unfortunately, HPAI continues to spread to farms of all sizes,” State Vet Dr. Samantha Beaty said. “There have been four previous detections in Weakley County affecting backyard flocks. It’s apparent this disease remains a threat to the poultry industry.”

Beaty stressed that bird owners need to know that their consistent practice of thorough biosecurity measures is the best way to protect the health of their flocks. Introduction of this disease can be from wild birds gathering on owners’ property, or workers can carry it into the flock if they are not wearing clean shoes and clothing.

Guidance for Bird Owners

• Wash your hands thoroughly before and after interacting with domesticated birds.

• Dedicate a pair of shoes to only be worn in coops or poultry houses and clean those shoes after each visit.

• Regularly disinfect any equipment used in coops or poultry houses and vehicles used for transporting birds.

• Deter wild birds from interacting with domesticated birds. Consider hanging pie pans or other noisemakers in trees or, if local rules allow, set off firecrackers intermittently or when you see vultures or geese on your property.

• Look for signs of illness and report a sudden increase in the number of sick birds or bird deaths to the Tennessee State Veterinarian’s office at 615- 837-5120 and/or USDA at 1-866-536-7593.

• Find more biosecurity tips and HPAI resources online at www.tn.gov/agriculture/businesses/animals/animal-health/avian-influenza.html.

Although HPAI does not pose a food safety risk, no infected poultry will be allowed to enter the food supply. Poultry and eggs are safe to eat when handled and cooked properly. The risk of human infection with avian flu during poultry outbreaks is very low. In fact, no transmission to humans was reported during the outbreak that affected commercial poultry farms in Tennessee in 2017, Beaty reported.

Tennesseans who own backyard flocks or pet birds are encouraged to sign up for TDA’s email service, “The Word on Birds.” The service provides email alerts about health threats affecting domesticated birds in the state. Enroll at stateoftennessee.formstack.com/forms/2023_domesticated_bird_health_notifications.

In Tennessee, more than 600 family farms contribute to the commercial poultry industry. The state is a global leader for primary breeders, and an estimated 45 percent of the chicken consumed worldwide traces to genetics from Tennessee operations. Broiler chickens are among the state’s top agricultural commodities, generating $376.2 million in cash receipts in 2021.

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