Earlier this month, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic H7N3 avian influenza (HPAI) in a commercial turkey flock in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. At press time, no new detections had been found since April 8. The outbreak was the first confirmed case of HPAI in commercial poultry in the United States since 2017.
“There was increased mortality in the flock, so samples were taken from several birds,” says Michael Stepien, BS, public affairs specialist for USDA APHIS in Riverdale, Md. “When birds on a premise test positive for HPAI, all of them must be depopulated to stop the virus’ further spread.”
Initially, APHIS found low pathogenicity avian influenza infections in 12 premises. Then, the low-path virus mutated and became a highly pathogenic strain which infected an additional premise. To ensure the safety of birds across the country, state officials quarantined the affected premises and approximately 346,012 birds were depopulated from all 13 premises, Stepien says.
At press time, APHIS had completed its surveillance of the area. No new human cases of H7N3 virus had been detected and there wasn’t any public health concern. “Birds from the affected flocks did not enter the food supply, and there is no safety concern at this time,” Stepien says.
The organization stressed, however, that it was important for both commercial and backyard poultry owners to be vigilant with their biosecurity practices to ensure they prevent the spread of avian influenza, Stepien says.
In commenting on the outbreak, Beth Breeding, vice president of communications and marketing for the National Turkey Federation in Washington, D.C., says the organization’s biggest concern was animal health and making sure the situation was contained to prevent other flocks from being impacted. “The joint actions by state and federal officials, as well as the grower and integrator, to quickly address the situation gave us the best possible chance of limiting its impact,” she says.
In a statement regarding the outbreak, Joel Brandenberger, president of the National Turkey Federation, stated, “Thorough disinfecting and cleaning procedures were initiated on premises as well as surveillance of commercial flocks in the surrounding area.”
Breeding believes that USDA and everyone else involved handled the case correctly. “APHIS officials and animal health officials in South Carolina responded quickly and appropriately to identify the problem, depopulate the flock, and monitor nearby flocks,” she says.
“This case is a textbook example of the effectiveness and importance of continuous monitoring to quickly identify and mitigate any potential animal disease issues,” Breeding continues. “Additionally, it highlights the work APHIS has done to implement a strong response plan to these types of cases.”
Concludes Breeding, “The public can continue to have complete confidence that the poultry industry is working hard to ensure that safe, nutritious products are available to consumers.”