Avian influenza leads to death of 19,000 turkeys in southern Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A virus that is highly contagious and fatal to poultry could cause the price of turkey to go up. 

A flock of turkeys in Osage County has contracted highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) which has led to the death of nearly 20,000 birds. Nearly all 50 states have a confirmed case of avian influenza. In Missouri, there have been eight affected commercial flocks and eight affected backyard flocks, for a total of 478,820 birds affected. 

“The last time we had it in Missouri was in 2015, so some years you have it and some years you don’t,” Missouri Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn said. “Highly pathogenic avian influenza is actually a virus that is carried from the wild waterfowl as the birds are migrating to the south.”

Chinn said waterfowl like ducks and geese then get into the water or food source for chickens and turkeys, spreading the fatal virus. Last week, the commercial farm in Osage County contracted the virus. 

“The farmer noticed that their flock was sick, that they weren’t acting right, so they called their veterinarian, and we quarantined the facility,” Chinn said. 

That farm in southern Missouri had 19,700 turkeys and with no cure for the contagious virus, the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Missouri’s Department of Agriculture were called in to get rid of the entire flock, even if they all don’t test positive for the virus.

“They do a depopulation of the farm,” Chinn said. “There will be a complete disinfection and cleaning of that farm to make sure they get the virus gone, so when the farmer brings in a new flock, he doesn’t have the threat of the virus return.”

Chinn said the virus is very obvious to spot because birds won’t act right and won’t eat or drink. The USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) confirmed HPAI in the flock in Osage County after samples were delivered to the USDA’s lab in Iowa following a sudden increase in mortality in the flock. 

“Anything that flies, that’s a bird is susceptible to this virus,” Chinn said. “We encourage people who have backyard flocks, have chickens, have ducks, to try and protect their herd and keep them contained and away from contract with that wild waterfowl.”

She also said avian influenza could also affect your pocketbook. 

“We are going to see fewer turkeys right now because this has impacted not just a Missouri turkey farm, there are other turkey farms across the country that have been impacted by this as well,” Chinn said. “You may see fewer turkeys on the store shelves and prices may go up.”

Since the beginning of the year, there have been a handful of outbreaks at commercial turkey farms across the state, affecting anywhere between 14,000 and 37,000 birds. 

Chinn said the public should not worry because there is no risk to poultry or eggs and this virus is not connected to the human flu. 

“This is not the same flu that you’re finding in humans right now,” Chinn said. “This is not Influenza A and it’s not Influenza B, so we don’t want anyone to be concerned about that. We do encourage people who have poultry on their farms to do proper hand washing after having interaction with their poultry.”

The commercial farmer in southern Missouri could be affected by this outbreak for up to six months, Chinn said. 

Back in November, the USDA detected HPAI in a chicken layer flock from Webster County. Across the country, according to the USDA, more than 56 million birds have been affected by the virus, with the most amount of cases reported in Iowa, 15 million. 

For avian influenza case updates, visit the department’s website

Missouri poultry producers are encouraged to prevent contact between their birds and wild birds and report sick birds or an unusual increase in death losses to a local veterinarian or the state veterinarian’s office at the Missouri Department of Agriculture at 573-751-3377.

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