Indiana animal health officials watching for bird flu

Latest case found in South Dakota

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE/AP) – The bird flu epidemic continues to spread. The latest case just helps confirm that Indiana health officials need to continue to watch for the virus in the Hoosier State.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that an eastern South Dakota farm, which had 1.3 million egg-laying chickens, was infected with the deadly virus, despite efforts to prevent it.

The news came just days after a strain of the virus was found in Whitley County, wiping out 77 birds in a backyard, or hobby, operation.

“This whole event, as far as nationally, is really unprecedented,” said Indiana State Board of Animal Health spokesperson Denise Derrer. “Nobody expected this to play out like it has.”

As of Thursday night, officials in South Dakota had not confirmed whether the chickens there died from the H5N2 strain.

It was the H5N8 strain that killed the chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks in Whitley County. “This strain hasn’t been diagnosed since February and that was found in California,” Derrer told NewsChannel 15. “We’re not sure how it made the leap.”

Field veterinarians for the state have continued to monitor the area.

“We’ve had teams there trying to reach out to anyone who has poultry in a 10 kilometer area,” Derrer said. “We’re checking the birds and getting samples in that neighborhood to make sure the disease hasn’t spread.”

So far, it’s the only case of bird flu in Indiana.

Click here for the latest affected areas.

“For back yard poultry, people may not check on the backgrounds of the birds they’ve purchased” said Derrer. “Those birds tend to be at a higher risk because this spreads by wild birds that are migrating. Commercial birds have indoor productions.”

The area case has not impacted any county fairs that will begin in mid-July. Leaders with area 4-H poultry clubs said there isn’t a threat that would jeopardize the summer event, yet.

However, people who own chickens and other birds have taken steps to do their part to keep the virus from spreading. “I started putting up a fence to keep my birds penned,” said Barb Dial, who usually owns about 25 chickens at her Noble County home. “I do that instead of letting them range free on my 10 acres.”

Right now, Dial has close to 80 chickens because of an upcoming project.

“I’ve also started making my family wear clothes and boots that they only use when going to the chicken coups or when they’re in the field,” said Dial. “We have clothes and boots for when we’re with the chickens and we have clothes we use for being in public.”

There have been many cases during the outbreak that has proven commercial farms are not invisible to the virus. In fact, if the South Dakota case is found to be caused by the H5N2 strain, it would have wiped out more than 33 million birds nationwide.

According to Derrer, Indiana is the top duck production state, producing 73 percent of the country’s ducks. The state is also third in the nation in egg production.

“The commercial industry is very aware of what’s going on and we’re in frequent conversation with them,” Derrer said of her office. “They’re doing what they can to keep this out of their investment and operations.”

Duck farms include Maple Leaf Farms in nearby Milford. Area chicken farms are in Orland and Portland.

“The virus doesn’t present a food safety threat to folks, so your eggs and poultry are completely safe to eat,” Derrer stated.

Still, officials aren’t sure when the country will have control of the outbreak.

“There are still a lot of unknowns going on,” Derrer said. “Since Monday, we’ve had 10 to 12 more infected flocks added across the country. The virus continues to spread, more so in other states. We thought with warmer weather coming, the flu doesn’t like that, and that it will die out, but we can’t say we’re in a place yet where that’s happening.”

Prices on food impacted continue to climb up.

The Associated Press also reported that prices on eggs and turkey meat are rising directly due to the outbreak. “The cost of a carton of large eggs in the Midwest has jumped nearly 17 percent to $1.39 a dozen from $1.19 since mid-April when the virus began appearing in Iowa’s chicken flocks,” the AP reported.

A spokesperson for Kroger told NewsChannel 15 the price increase is in eggs and liquid egg products.

Some stores in other parts of the country have seen egg supplies down, but Kroger said that hasn’t been the story for the supermarket chain. However, the spokesperson added, “based on the number of laying hens impacts, industry experts are indicating the possibility in the future.”

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