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Minnesota Declares Emergency Over Bird Flu Outbreak

  • Reuters

FILE - A flock of turkeys at a Minnesota poultry farm.

FILE - A flock of turkeys at a Minnesota poultry farm.

Minnesota declared a state of emergency on Thursday over a fast-spreading strain of avian flu that has led to the extermination of more than 7.3 million birds in the country. It followed Wisconsin's action on Monday.

The highly pathogenic H5N2 strain of bird flu has been identified on 46 Minnesota farms in 16 counties and affected more than 2.6 million birds in the state.

State health officials said they were expediting prescriptions for the antiviral drug Tamiflu for farm workers and others who have been in direct contact with infected flocks. No human infections have been reported in this outbreak.

Top 10 US Poultry Markets

1. Mexico ($1.2 billion in U.S. imports in 2014)
Mostly imports poultry meat and eggs, as well as fertilized eggs for hatching. Currently banning imports of fresh and frozen poultry and poultry products from birds originating from, slaughtered or processed in 10 affected states. Exceptions for raw poultry shipped for thermal processing or heat treatment in Mexico. On Tuesday, the country expanded the ban to live birds and eggs from Iowa.

2. Canada ($589 million)
Banning imports of raw poultry and products from or near affected counties in seven states and all counties in six states. Also barring imports of certain processed products.

3. Hong Kong ($521 million)
Banning imports of poultry meat and poultry meat products from birds raised, processed, slaughtered or shipped from affected counties in 13 affected states on or after specific dates. Fully cooked or heat treated products exempt.

4. China ($315 million)
All U.S. poultry and products banned since January 2015.

5. Angola ($264 million)
All U.S. poultry and products banned since January 2015.

6. Russia ($150 million)
All U.S. poultry and products banned since August 2014 as part of response to sanctions from the United States and Europe over Russia's annexation of Crimea.

7. Cuba ($148 million)
Banning imports of poultry and poultry products from birds raised, processed, slaughtered or stored in 13 states with HPAI on or after specific dates as well as New Jersey where a strain of low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) was discovered.

8. Taiwan ($143 million)
Banning imports of poultry meat and products from 13 states affected with HPAI and one with LPAI shipped on or after specific dates.

9. South Korea ($113 million)
All non-heat treated U.S. poultry and products from birds slaughtered and processed on or after Nov. 25, 2014, are banned. The restrictions include shipments to U.S. military in South
Korea.

10. Guatemala ($104 million)
Banning imports of poultry and poultry products from birds originating from or slaughtered in affected counties in 13 affected states on or after specific dates.

- Reuters

"There's no reason for anybody in the state of Minnesota to be concerned about their own health," Governor Mark Dayton said at a press conference on Thursday after declaring the state of emergency.

Low risk to humans

Federal and local public health authorities have said the risk of human infection is low.

The state's action to provide antiviral drugs follows recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Minnesota's health department approached 140 farm workers and others who had been in direct contact with infected birds and advised 87 of them to take the Roche antiviral medication as a preventative measure, the department's spokesman Michael Schommer said. Seventy of them took the drug, he said.

Of the 62 people that state health officials have followed up with so far, none have been infected by the virus, Schommer said.

The virus can kill nearly an entire infected flock within 48 hours. Millions of turkeys and chickens are in quarantine waiting to be culled and large flocks have already been destroyed.

Meanwhile, some international trade partners are declining to buy egg and poultry products from Midwestern states that have been affected by a deadly strain of bird flu, while others are excluding imports only from counties where the virus has surfaced.

Imports stopped

A few countries - including China, Russia, South Korea and Thailand - have shut off all imports of poultry products from the United States. Mexico, Japan and Canada are among 33 countries declining to accept poultry products from entire states, including Iowa, the nation's leading egg producer, and Minnesota, the top turkey grower in the U.S.

Other countries, including Hong Kong, limit the ban to counties where the virus has been confirmed. Some countries - including Honduras, Kazakhstan and Qatar - require products to be heated to a temperature that will kill the virus before they'll accept poultry products.

U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Joelle Hayden said the agency is working with the poultry industry, trade associations and others to mitigate the impact on exports.

“We are actively engaging with most of these countries to reduce these restrictions,'' she said.

Earlier this week, Hormel said it would sell less turkey this year because of a spreading bird flu outbreak.

So far the virus has been found at farms housing 2.3 million turkeys, all of which have died of the disease, or have been killed or soon will be in order to stem the spread of avian flu. Most of the birds were in Minnesota, which is the largest turkey-producing state in the U.S.

Big commercial farms have been hit hard, and Hormel said Monday it is experiencing significant turkey supply-chain problems. It expects outbreaks to decrease as the weather improves.

Wild birds

Officials have said they believe wild birds are spreading the virus but they do not know how it is entering barns.

Two bird flu strains have been discovered in the United States this year. The H5N2 strain is in Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin. It has also been identified on farms in Ontario, Canada.

The H5N8 strain has been identified in California and also in Idaho, U.S. Department of Agriculture data showed.

Iowa, the top U.S. egg-producing state, said on Monday that a lethal strain of bird flu had been found in hens at an egg-laying facility near the city of Harris run by Sunrise Farms, an affiliate of Sonstegard Foods Company. The company said the facility houses 3.8 million hens.

"We went to great lengths to prevent our birds from contracting AI [avian influenza], but despite best efforts we now confirm many of our birds are testing positive," Sonstegard said.

Hormel Foods Corp, based in Minnesota, said this week that the virulent strain of avian influenza may drag its fiscal 2015 earnings toward the lower end of forecasts.

The virus has been identified at a facility west of Minneapolis that is owned by a subsidiary of Hormel. Minnesota is the largest turkey-producing state in the country.

Minnesota's Dayton said he had authorized the National Guard to be called up for duty if needed.

Wisconsin emergency

In Wisconsin on Monday, Governor Scott Walker declared a state of emergency after three poultry flocks became infected in the past week, his office said. A state spokeswoman said guardsmen would disinfect trucks exiting infected facilities.

In Minnesota, researchers are investigating the virus' spread, testing animal feed and conducting experiments to see if the virus is being carried onto farms by windborne dirt, dust or feathers, state officials said on Thursday.

The CDC said on Wednesday that H5N2 is genetically different from the H5N1 bird flu virus that has spread from birds to humans in the past.

Some information for this report came from AP.

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