Turkey farms in Minnesota are reporting cases of bird flu among their stocks. So far, a total of seven farms have informed state officials of avian influenza (AI) among the animals in their possession.

A turkey farm in Kandiyohi County, Minn., noted an increase in the number of bird deaths at its facility, and testing revealed that avian flu was responsible. That determination was confirmed through secondary testing performed by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza (HPAI) has not been detected in humans, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to people and farm animals to be low. The Minnesota Board of Animal Health is also assuring the public that this newest outbreak of avian influenza poses no direct threat to humans and that the disease cannot be transmitted through foods.

State officials quarantined the premises that were affected, and there will be measures to depopulate the birds as a means of preventing the spread of the disease. Birds from the affected flock will not be used for food.

"The Minnesota Department of Health is working directly with poultry workers at the affected facility to ensure that they are taking the proper precautions," officials of the Minnesota Board of Public Health said.

Infected farms are not permitted to move poultry on or off their property until the contamination is eliminated in order to prevent the virus from spreading to healthy animals.

"The United States has the strongest AI surveillance program in the world, and USDA is working with its partners to actively look for the disease in commercial poultry operations, live bird markets and in migratory wild bird populations," USDA officials said.

The HPAI H5N8 virus was originally recorded in Asia and traveled to the United States in 2014. The classification is based on two proteins — hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). There are 16 different versions of hemagglutinin and nine of neuraminidase. Influenza can come in many combinations, some of which are more dangerous than others. The latest cases of the Asian-born viruses have adopted genetic material from flu varieties native to North America, which has slowed the spread of the disease.

Wildlife officials are cautioning people who find dead or sick birds in the wild not to touch the creatures and to wash hands and clothing after any contact before coming near healthy animals.

Minnesota is the nation's leading producer of turkeys, increasing problems associated with avian influenza in the North Star State. Incidents of wild bird flu have also been found in flocks in Wyoming, Missouri and South Dakota, all states on the Mississippi flyway. Health officials are working with poultry farms on infection control procedures and monitoring the situation.

Poultry and eggs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 Fahrenheit in order to kill potentially hazardous bacteria, health officials caution.

The USDA encourages all bird owners to follow safe practices and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state and federal workers through their state veterinarian or to the USDA's toll-free number 1-866-536-7593.

Photo: Andrea Westmoreland | Flickr

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