The first confirmed case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in the United States since 2017 does not threaten human health, according to experts.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed the presence of the H7N3 avian influenza in a commercial turkey flock in Chesterfield County, SC. APHIS said the HPAI strain appears to have mutated from a low pathogenic type found in the area recently to the more concerning highly pathogenic status.
China, Canada and Mexico responded to the finding by banning poultry slaughtered and processed in Chesterfield County and South Carolina.
The United States is said to have the strongest Avian Influenza (AI) surveillance program in the world. Once the highly pathogenic bird flu was detected in Chesterfield County, the entire flock totaling 32, 577 turkeys was destroyed to contain the disease. It first showed up as respiratory illness.
Low pathogenic bird flu was first found in a nearby turkey flock across the border in North Carolina. Since that finding on March 10, the low pathogenic strain has been found in other turkey barns in the two states.
“The world better understands avian influenza and I think our government has been effective in explaining to other countries how we respond to a case,” said Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Eggs Export Council.
Canada’s ban on U.S. poultry was limited to an area within 6.2 miles of where the highly pathogenic strain was detected in Chesterfield County. China, South Korea, and Japan imposed bans poultry products from South Carolina.
China only recently lifted a ban on U.S. poultry imposed over the AI cases in the U.S. that began in 2015. More than 50 million chickens and turkeys in the U.S. had to be destroyed at that time because of the highly pathogenic strain, costly poultry producers $1.1 billion.
While human food safety is not at risk from the H7N3 avian flu, APHIS does tell consumers to always cook eggs and poultry products to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F because that is the heat sufficient to kill all bacteria and viruses.
No birds from the infected South Carolina flock ever entered the U.S. food supply.
APHIS worked with the South Carolina State Veterinarian’s Office at Clemson University on joint incident response. State officials quarantined the premises and depopulated the area to prevent the spread of the disease. The federal-state response unit then executed the avian influenza response plan by doing wider surveillance and testing throughout the area.
APHIS looks for the bird flu in commercial poultry, live bird markets, and wild bird populations. The USDA reports its findings to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and with international trading partners.
Good biosecurity practices call for all bird owners, including commercial producers and backyard enthusiasts, to practice responsible biosecurity measures and prevent contact between domestic and wild birds and any sick birds or birds experiencing unusual deaths.
Avian influenza (AI) is caused by an influenza type A virus that infects domestic poultry and is carried by free-flying waterfowl including ducks and geese.
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