New bird flu strain found in Indiana

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 15, 2016 - A new strain of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAI) that caused the depopulation of more than 48 million birds last year has been detected in Indiana. 

The new strain - H7N8 - was detected in a Dubois County, Ind., commercial turkey flock. Department of Agriculture officials confirmed the detection Friday after testing at the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue University. Most of the detections in the 2015 HPAI outbreak involved the H5N2, H5N8, and H5N1 viruses. 

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This is the first detection of any strain of HPAI in almost seven months and the first in Indiana almost eight. According to a release from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the flock has been quarantined and officials have already begun depopulating the approximately 60,000 birds at the facility. Officials say it is their goal to finalize depopulation within 24 hours of initial detection, which happened Thursday night.

On a call with reporters Friday afternoon, T.J. Meyers, associate deputy administrator of APHIS Veterinary Services, said in more than 25,000 samples of wild bird surveillance collected since July, there have been “a few” detections of low pathogenic H7 strains of the virus, “but not all “H7N8s are the same.”

Birds from the infected flock will not be allowed in the food system, and there are no known cases of H7N8 infections in humans. As part of a plan to prevent further potential outbreaks, APHIS officials are encouraging poultry producers to review their biosecurity protocols and take steps to help prevent their flocks from being infected. APHIS is also reminding consumers to fully cook chicken and egg products to kill bacteria and viruses including HPAI. 

After last year's outbreak, there was some talk about a potential vaccine against the virus, but Meyers said the two vaccines purchased by APHIS were safeguards against H5 strains of the virus.

“The vaccines that we purchased did not include an H7 vaccine . . . that was not something that we were necessarily anticipating,” Meyers said. He noted that the H7 strain of the disease had been detected in Canada and Mexico, but never in the U.S.

Indiana State Veterinarian Bret Marsh said he is “hopeful this is a one time event, and we're doing everything we can to keep it that way.”

In 2015, more than 48 million birds were depopulated as a result of HPAI infections. The disease was introduced by wild birds migrating north, so there was concern that the same wild birds would spread the disease as they migrated south in the fall and winter. 

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Story updated at 3:50

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