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Highly contagious avian flu detected in northwest Tennessee

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Katie Brady
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Kentucky Department of Agriculture officials are asking western Kentucky bird and poultry owners to be on the lookout for a highly contagious avian flu that’s deadly to poultry after the virus was detected in a backyard flock in northwest Tennessee.

A release from Kentucky and Tennessee agriculture officials Thursday states the Obion County, Tennessee flock owner notified the state veterinarian on Sept. 13 of a sudden unexplained increase in deaths. The flock that tested positive for the virus consists of chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, pheasants, and pigeons.

In response, the Tennessee state veterinarian is banning all poultry shows, exhibitions and sales in the state, which includes all events “where poultry can commingle” such as livestock sales, flea markets and swap meets.

“Issuing an order like this is never an easy decision, especially during fair season,” Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher said in a statement. “From backyard flock owners to the large commercial companies — the poultry industry touches a lot of lives in Tennessee. This is an effort to protect all domesticated poultry in our state.”

Federal and state agriculture officials are going door-to-door in a 12.4 mile diameter surveillance zone to raise awareness about the virus and test other nearby flocks. The zone includes a portion of far western Kentucky. The Obion County flock is being killed to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) can cause severe disease and high mortality in poultry and can spread rapidly through poultry flocks. The KDA states HPAI is not a food supply risk and the risk of humans becoming infected is very low.

Clint Harris raises about 126,000 chickens in four poultry houses in Graves County, where he said his farm is now on “lockdown.” He said he has a buffer zone in place where only essential employees on his farm can enter to prevent potential spread. While Harris said his farm is somewhat isolated from other chicken farms, he worries about the potential of HPAI spreading through migratory birds. He said he knows a Fulton County commercial chicken producer who had to kill chickens earlier this year because of avian flu being detected on the operation.

“I make sure that everything is disinfected when [people] come on the farm,” Harris said. “It can close you down.”

The KDA has online resources for how poultry owners can detect signs of avian flu and protect their flock. The toll free number to report sick or dead farm birds to the U.S. Department of Agriculture is 1-866-536-7593.

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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