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Tennessee Confirms Local Outbreak of Bird Flu

— March 9, 2017

Tennessee health officials confirmed on Sunday that a farm in the southern part of the state had been hit with an outbreak of bird flu.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza, popularly called the “bird flu,” was the basis for a widely publicized health scare in 2013 and 2014. Contagious for chickens and turkey alike, the bird flu can have deadly consequences for poultry as well as people.

After the Tennessee Department of Agriculture confirmed a bird flu outbreak in Lincoln County, the state implemented a quarantine of the operation as well as nearly three-dozen within a 30-mile radius.

“Although this is a situation no one wants to face, Tennessee has been actively preparing to respond to HPAI since it was first identified as a threat,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Jai Templeton.

Bird flu doesn’t transmit from person-to-person but can still hit businesses hard. When a local epidemic is identified, the infected birds as well as their kin are usually culled. The loss in stock can drive small outfits into bankruptcy and reduce local meat supplies.

Fears of a pandemic spread in 2015 when hundreds of farmers and agricultural workers in China fell ill after handling sick chickens and hens. 1 out of every 5 who became sick died shortly afterward, as the media induced a scare by speculating about how the disease might morph to become contagious among humans. Nevertheless, severe cases of bird flu in people are rare in the United States. During the last major outbreak in the American Midwest two years ago, nobody came down with HPAI.

A map showing countries which have had poultry stock hit hardest by HPAI; image courtesy of Wikipedia

The Department of Agriculture officials handling the Lincoln County quarantine were adamant that the sick poultry wouldn’t pose a risk to consumers. Consumer Affairs paraphrased the agency as saying that isolation techniques ensured that the local supply chain wouldn’t be contaminated. They also referenced the 2015 outbreak in the Midwest as evidence that avian flu doesn’t pose much of a risk to humans, as enhanced workplace sanitation in the United States offers a degree of protection to American workers not always found in countries like China.

Tennessee is by no means alone in having to suffer through yet another bout of the bird flu.

Millions of chickens in European Union and East Asia have been quarantined and subsequently culled over the past months, as particularly virulent strains of the disease have spread throughout coops and flocks.

South Korea announced an embargo on poultry products from the United States following news of the Tennessee outbreak. South Korea has faced a rough battle against HPAI into 2017, having killed 34 million sick and at-risk birds since the beginning of the new year.


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