Bird flu strikes Stearns County turkey flock

WILLMAR, Minn. - A commercial turkey flock in Stearns County has become the third in the state to be infected by the highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Bird flu
The highly pathogenic avian influenza has struck a third commercial turkey flock in Minnesota, this time in Stearns County. The county is the state's second highest producer of poultry behind Kandiyohi County.

WILLMAR, Minn. - A commercial turkey flock in Stearns County has become the third in the state to be infected by the highly pathogenic avian influenza.

The infection was confirmed Saturday, when state officials announced that a commercial flock of approximately 40,000 birds had been struck. The disease infected birds in one of four barns on the site. There had been a significant death loss in the infected barn, according to Dr. Bill Hartmann, state veterinarian, Minnesota Board of Health.

"This is obviously a huge concern to the industry,' said Dave Frederickson, commissioner, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, who joined Hartmann and Ed Ehlinger, commissioner, Minnesota Department of Health, in speaking to reporters Saturday about the latest infection.

The Stearns County infection is significant because of its occurrence in the state's second highest poultry producing county. Kandiyohi County is the state's leading poultry producer and home to Jennie-O Turkey Store.

Minnesota joins Arkansas and Missouri as states in the Mississippi flyway with reported cases.


Minnesota's first reported avian influenza case in a turkey flock occurred March 5 in Pope County. On Friday, a second case had been confirmed in Lac qui Parle County, where the virus struck birds in one of three barns holding 66,000 birds.

The Stearns County case occurs in an area with increased turkey production as compared to the two previous outbreaks, and consequently the state will be devoting more resources to it. On Saturday, teams were driving the roadways within a 20-kilometer radius of the site. Their goal was to identify and notify all of the commercial and backyard poultry producers.

The birds on the infected farm will be euthanized and composted. The state quarantines all flocks within a 10-kilometer radius of the site and monitors flocks within a 20-kilometer radius. The quarantined birds are tested.

Dr. Hartmann said the state is continuing its epidemiological investigation to determine why these sites were infected, but as of yet does not know. There is no apparent connection between any of the three Minnesota sites, he said.

Wild waterfowl are known to be a reservoir for influenza.

Workers at the infected farms are being monitored by the Minnesota Department of Health as a precaution. Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said the disease does not pose a risk to the public and that there are no food safety concerns.

There are economic concerns.

Frederickson noted that 40 countries are not accepting turkey produced in the United States. Some of the countries ban all US turkey products, while others only restrict the import of products from states with known infections or specific locations.


"It is so important for all of us to assure our trading partners that our products are indeed safe that come out of here in Minnesota,' the commissioner said.

The avian influenza has not been confirmed to date in commercially-raised chickens. Hartmann said chickens are capable of getting the disease. State officials do not know why no infections have been found in chickens, he said.

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