Multiple avian influenza outbreaks in Tennessee

In early March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that a strain of the bird flu has been detected in a Tennessee chicken breeder flock contracted to food giant Tyson Foods Inc. As a result, the farm will euthanize 73,500 birds to stop the virus from entering the food system, the USDA said.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture said in a news release that tests confirmed the presence of the H7 strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or HPAI, at the facility in Lincoln County, Tennessee. Then, a few days later, another poultry farm in Giles County tested positive for a different low pathogenic strain of avian influenza through routine testing. Tennessee State Veterinarian Charles Hatcher said the two cases do not seem to be related. The latest situation is less serious, but the premises at the Giles County site were still quarantined.

In 2014 and 2015, a U.S. avian flu outbreak required the slaughter of 50 million chickens (mostly egg-laying hens) and turkeys. As a result, U.S. egg prices reached record highs.

Even more alarming, avian flu is a disease with zoonotic potential, meaning it can spread between animals and people. China was the most recent place this occurred.

Since October 2016, at least 460 human cases of avian influenza and numerous deaths have been reported there, according to details released March 3 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many live poultry markets in China were shut down to reduce human contact with infected birds after a surge in human avian flu infections.

Avian flu is one of many respiratory diseases that virologist Chang-Won (Charles) Lee conducts research on at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). He is also leading scientists from 11 institutions in a research project designed to determine all of the microbes — things like bacteria, fungi and viruses — in the poultry respiratory system.

Lee is collaborating with other scientists to determine which commensal microbes are hazardous, see how they are impacted by factors such as environmental conditions, and recommend new control methods and management systems for healthier barns and birds with stronger immune systems. Lee also leads collaborative projects on developing a universal flu vaccine that can provide enhanced protective immunity against emerging flu strains. Lee is available to address biosecurity measures aimed at preventing the spread of bird flu and to discuss the various strains of the disease.

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