Arkansas' first case of bird flu for 2023 found in Madison County flock

FILE - Beth Travis, right, a research microbiologist, demonstrates the test for Asian avian flu for the media on May 9, 2006 after a Tyson presentation about Asian avian influenza (H5N1). (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/BOB COLEMAN)
FILE - Beth Travis, right, a research microbiologist, demonstrates the test for Asian avian flu for the media on May 9, 2006 after a Tyson presentation about Asian avian influenza (H5N1). (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/BOB COLEMAN)

The first case of H5N1 avian influenza in Arkansas poultry in 2023 was reported on Oct. 31 in a flock of 31,600 commercial broiler breeder pullets at a farm in Madison County, bringing the total number of U.S. states with commercial poultry operations affected by the virus to six states.

An investigation was conducted by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Livestock and Poultry Division with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Veterinary Services and the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory and testing confirmed the presence of avian flu, according to a state Department of Agriculture news release on Thursday.

“The farm is under quarantine to stop the spread of avian influenza to other flocks in the state,” Arkansas State Veterinarian John Nilz said in the news release.

The release noted the virus does not pose a public health threat and does not affect poultry meat or egg products, which remain safe to eat.

“We have taken immediate action to contain this disease and will continue to work with poultry growers, the industry, and our laboratory partners to protect against its spread,” said Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward. “Arkansas poultry is safe to eat, and consumers can be confident in the safety of their food.”

The state Department of Agriculture, partner agencies and the USDA are working to contain the situation via sampling and quarantining nearby flocks, the release stated.

It is prohibited to exhibit or move poultry and domestic waterfowl, to sell, barter, trade, auction or give them away at fairs, swap meets, auctions, flea markets or similar events within an affected area, under provisions of the Poultry Disease and Flock Condemnation Rule, the news release noted.

The state Department of Agriculture determines an affected area to be within approximately 25 miles surrounding a flock with a confirmed case of avian influenza; the boundaries of the affected area near the confirmed case in Madison County include Gateway, Osage, Combs and Harmon. All free range and backyard poultry in the affected area, whether for commercial or non-commercial use, have to be confined under cover or inside a structure to minimize contact with migratory birds, the release stated; the USDA has determined wild birds are a carrier for the virus.

Backyard flock owners who notice sickness or unusual deaths in their flocks should email or call 501-823-1746, the release stated.

Also on Tuesday, in the neighboring state of Oklahoma,

An outbreak of avian influenza affecting 50 birds in Wagoner County, Okla., was also reported on Tuesday, less than 100 miles from Arkansas border. The first case of the virus in Oklahoma this fall was detected in Carter County on Oct. 16 in a mixed flock of 80 birds, approximately 200 miles west of the Arkansas border.

Commericial broiler or breeder operations in Arkansas and Minnesota, commercial turkey operations in Minnesota, South Dakota, California, Iowa and Utah have been affected so far this fall. Most commercial operations affected so far this fall in the U.S. have been turkey operations.

This is the second time in about a year that a Madison County commercial broiler breeder operation has been hit by avian influenza; a case of avian flu affecting 56,000 commercial broiler breeder pullets in Madison County was reported on Oct. 7, 2022.

Before this recent case, no cases of avian influenza had been reported in Arkansas since Dec. 1. Arkansas had three reported outbreaks of avian influenza in 2022 that affected 56,490 birds in Madison, Pope and Arkansas counties, mostly commercial broiler breeder pullets in Madison County.

Signs of illness could include a sudden increase in bird deaths, decreased water and feed intake, low energy, difficulty breathing, coughing or sneezing with or without discharge, swelling of the head, comb, wattles, eyelids and hocks, a dark blue-purple discoloration of the comb, wattles and legs, lack of coordination, ruffled feathers, diarrhia, decreased egg production or soft, thin shelled or malformed eggs, according to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture’s website.

The state Department of Agriculture recommends poultry growers ramp up biosecurity measures like washing hands, cleaning or changing shoes and disinfecting any equipment before coming into contact with a poultry flock, cover or restrict flocks from coming into contact with wild waterfowl or rodents by maintaining pens, structures and covers, isolating or minimizing contact between one’s flock and people who come onto one’s property, hanging bird deterrents near poultry houses to keep away wild birds and quarantining new birds for at least two weeks before introducing to one’s flock, according to the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s website.