The highly lethal bird flu has now been found at a third farm in Indiana, and one that is much closer to Indianapolis.
The state announced Thursday that the virus showed up at a turkey farm southwest of Bloomington — meaning the outbreak has jumped a couple counties from where it was first detected and is growing.
The third farm, in Greene County, has approximately 48,000 turkeys that will be euthanized in an effort to contain the spread. That brings the total number of birds in Indiana destroyed because of the virus to more 103,000.
This is considered a presumptive-positive case at this time, according to the Indiana State Board of Animal Health. Samples are being verified at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's national veterinary lab in Iowa.
This does not present an immediate concern to public health, federal officials said, but it does have agriculture and industry folks worried about a larger outbreak.
Farms are hoping to avoid a repeat of 2015 when an outbreak of bird flu killed 50 million birds across 15 states and cost the federal government nearly $1 billion. While Indiana escaped from that catastrophe, it has farmers and the industry on high alert.
Officials say they have learned a lot from the 2015 outbreak, which has been deemed the most expensive animal health disaster in U.S. history. Some countries have already restricted poultry meat and egg products from Indiana. Prices for poultry products could also rise and availability drop if birds at enough farms were to be infected.
Indiana's outbreak started on Feb. 9, when the USDA reported the first confirmed case of the H5N1 strain of avian flu at a farm in Dubois County. It is a highly pathogenic strain, meaning it is lethal to all poultry that contract the disease. All turkeys at that farm — 29,000 — were euthanized to help control the spread.
It was the nation’s first confirmed case of the flu in a commercial operation since 2020 and six years since it was last found on farms in Indiana, when hundreds of thousands of birds were killed as a result.
As soon as the state received the first results Feb. 9, it issued a quarantine at the site and all those farms within a 10-kilometer radius primarily in Dubois County and a portion of northern Spencer County. That includes 17 other operations, said Denise Derrer Spears, spokeswoman for the state Board of Animal Health.
Then earlier this week, the virus was detected at a second farm in Dubois near the first. The second affected farm was one of those within the control area and already under quarantine. It housed roughly 26,000 birds that have all been culled.
While the virus was initially contained to Dubois County, this latest case has moved north. The names of the affected farms have not been publicly released.
This third flock was tested after seeing a high mortality rate among the turkeys.
Because the third farm is outside the existing control area in Dubois County, another 10-kilometer circle has been established in Greene County and a portion of Northern Daviess County. There are nine other commercial poultry operations within this new control area that are under quarantine and will be tested at least once per week.
That means there are a total of 28 commercial poultry farms in Indiana now under quarantine. They cannot bring birds in or move them out without extensive testing and a specific permit to do so.
The euthanized turkeys from the farms will be disposed of onsite by composting them, a method that is approved and overseen by state and federal agencies. The barns and all equipment also need to be thoroughly cleaned – “eat off the floor clean,” Derrer Spears said.
Once the cleaning is complete and the disposal has reached a certain stage, the quarantine will be lifted. There are many factors involved and there is no target date to do that. The state said it likely will be about four to six weeks.
It is unclear how these flocks were infected. The avian flu viruses are fairly common in wild migratory birds and waterfowl, according to Derrer Spears, and ducks and geese that contract the disease will spread it in their droppings as they fly by.
Indiana is not the only state struggling with an outbreak of the virus.
Poultry operations in Kentucky and Virginia were confirmed to have birds infected with the highly lethal form of avian flu just days after the first Indiana flock tested positive — raising worries about a wider outbreak across the country.
Those infections occurred at a Tyson Foods commercial chicken operation in Kentucky with 240,000 birds and among a backyard flock of mixed species in Virginia. Officials also are waiting for test results of a turkey flock in another Kentucky county.
The strain also has been wreaking havoc on Asia and Europe, and has been found in some wild birds along the East Coast. Canada recently confirmed an H5N1 bird flu in a commercial poultry operation in Nova Scotia.
This current Midwest outbreak is significant because it shows that the strain has entered a migratory pathway for birds called the Mississippi Flyway, which follows the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and includes several major poultry states such as Indiana.
The last time this bird flu was found in commercial poultry in Indiana was in January 2016. That situation similarly started with one flock and then testing showed that it had spread to nearly a dozen other flocks. Ultimately more than 400,000 birds across the state had to be euthanized.
Indiana is the third-largest turkey producing state in the country, the No. 1 state in duck production and the second largest in table eggs and egg-laying chickens. Dubois County is the top turkey producing county in Indiana.
Still, this outbreak is not only of concern for commercial farming operations.
Board of Animal Health staff continue to reach out to known hobby or backyard poultry owners in the control area to schedule testing of birds. The state said that to date, 26 such flocks have been sampled and the laboratory testing has found them negative.
The state asks that hobby poultry owners in southern Dubois County and southwest Greene County contact the Board of Animal Health at 317-544-2387 to schedule testing at no charge.
Staff with the USDA-Wildlife Services in Indiana also is beginning wild bird surveillance efforts in the area.
Call IndyStar reporter Sarah Bowman at 317-444-6129 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook: @IndyStarSarah. Connect with IndyStar’s environmental reporters: Join The Scrub on Facebook.
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This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Over 103,000 turkeys killed as bird flu outbreak spreads in Indiana