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State Finds Avian Flu in Madison County Flock

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The state Department of Agriculture said Friday that it has confirmed a case of avian influenza on an Arkansas poultry farm in Madison County and is working to contain it.

The department said it confirmed poultry from the farm tested positive for highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza (HPAI), an airborne respiratory virus that spreads easily among chickens. It’s the first confirmed case of the disease in Arkansas since 2015.

The department said the flu is no threat to humans and that the disease does not affect poultry meat or egg products.

“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,” Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward said in a news release. “Arkansas poultry is safe to eat, and consumers can be confident in the safety of their food.”

The department said it is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies to contain the outbreak through sampling and quarantining nearby poultry flocks.

The detected avian influenza virus is the highly pathogenic H5 type, which is more severe and can cause high mortality in poultry flocks. It’s the same strain confirmed in other states and wild birds in the Atlantic flyway, the department said.

Arkansas State Veterinarian John Nilz said the birds on the affected farm “were depopulated” to prevent the spread of disease and will not enter the food system. The commercial farm, which the department did not name, is under quarantine, the department said.

Arkansas has been working all year to prevent infection amid a nationwide outbreak. As of May, avian influenza has been detected in half the states that border Arkansas. In all, 42 states have reported infections.

David Bray, group president of poultry at Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, said during the company’s May 9 earnings call that Tyson was watching the avian flu outbreak closely and was testing every flock before it left the farm.

Avian influenza spreads among chickens through nasal and eye secretions and manure. The virus can be spread from flock to flock, including by wild birds, through contact with infected poultry, by equipment, and on the clothing and shoes of caretakers, the department said.

In March, the agriculture department implemented a 120-day emergency rule aimed to prevent infections. That rule prohibited the exhibition of poultry and waterfowl; required that free range and backyard poultry be confined under roof or inside structures; and prohibited movement of poultry or domestic waterfowl from or within an affected area. 

The poultry industry is big business in Arkansas, which ranks third nationally in broiler production, according to the Poultry Federation. In 2020, the state’s poultry industry provided $3.7 billion, or 50%, of the total agricultural cash receipts.

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