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Deadly avian flu detected at commercial chicken operation in SW Kentucky near Tennessee state line

The two states are working together to prevent the highly pathogenic bird flu from spreading.

FULTON COUNTY, Ky. — Kentucky and Tennessee agencies are responding after federal and state authorities discovered a deadly outbreak of avian influenza in chickens in Southwestern Kentucky near the Tennessee state line.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, inspectors found cases of the H5N1 strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in a flock of commercial broiler chickens in Fulton County, Kentucky.

State officials quarantined the premises, and the birds will be killed to prevent the spread of the disease. None of the birds will be used for food, but agriculture officials said the flu does not present a food safety risk so long as chicken or eggs are handled and cooked properly. 

No human cases of the virus have been found in the U.S., the USDA said.

“The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is working closely with animal health officials at both the federal and state government to contain these incidents of avian influenza,” Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles said. “Protecting the health of livestock and poultry in the commonwealth is a top priority of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture."

The KDA said the quarantine zone for the incident extends into Obion County, Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture said it is working with the KDA on the incident response.

“It’s critical that we work together to prevent the spread of this virus,” Tennessee State Veterinarian Dr. Samantha Beaty said. “We will begin testing and surveillance of commercial and backyard flocks within the surveillance zone immediately. In Tennessee, poultry owners should report unexpected deaths to the State Vet’s office.” 

Even though no cases of avian flu have been confirmed in Tennessee, the state is keeping a close eye on the situation. Unchecked outbreaks of HPAI have the potential to devastate the state's commercial poultry industry, as roughly 50% of the chicken consumed globally can be traced back to Tennessee's primary breeder operations. The state said broiler chickens are one of Tennessee's top commodities, generating nearly $400 million in cash receipts in the state in 2021.

The TDA  has resources on the avian flu and how to prevent it at this link.

The outbreak comes after Indiana reported a case of HPAI in a commercial turkey flock last week. It was the first case in a U.S. commercial flock since 2020. A backyard flock in Virginia also tested positive for HPAI.

Anyone who works with poultry should review their biosecurity activities to make sure their birds stay healthy, Tennessee and Kentucky officials said. All bird owners should work to keep them isolated from wild birds and should report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state and federal officials through the USDA's 1-866-536-7593 number. In Tennessee, people can also contact the TDA at 615-837-5120. 

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