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Area turkey flock devastated

Lead Summary

The massive bird flu outbreak that has wiped out millions of turkeys across the state has found its into Steele County, the first county in southeastern Minnesota to end up with the deadly virus. 
Last Wednesday the USDA confirmed that H5N2 avian influenza struck a single turkey operation in Steele County. Though officials will not identify the operation or where it is located, sources have told the Times it is in Merton Township, which is in the far northeastern corner of the county east of Medford.
The detection caused the infected flock to go under quarantine and commercial flocks within a 10-kilometer control area were put under surveillance by state and federal officials. 
The entire flock of 96,700 turkeys on the Steele County farm was euthanized as a precaution, according to Erica Gunderson of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. As a result, the operator will be out of commission for about two months before being allowed to raise more turkeys, she said.
One of the tell tale signs of infected poultry, Gunderson said, is when the flock becomes really quiet. Poultry are typically very vocal in a healthy environment. Other indicators include animals stop eating or drinking and paralysis and other nervous signs. 
Officials still haven’t determined the exact cause for the widespread outbreak. 
Gunderson said officials use a method called foaming to kill the infected flocks. “Foaming is used for mass euthanasia and is supported by the American Veterinary Association,” she said. “It is the primary way to depopulate a large, large turkey flock,” she added.
State and federal officials have been using the foaming method for all the infected flocks across the state since the outbreak began last month. So far, nearly 4 million turkeys have been infected on 72 farms in 19 counties. 
The USDA works with flock owners to develop a flock plan, which includes appraisal and indemnity agreements for depopulation of poultry that remain on the premises. After depopulation occurs, all turkey carcasses are composted inside of the barns. The composting temperature is about 130 degrees, Gunderson said. She added the process takes about one month to complete. 
Bird flu is a virus that infects domestic poultry, such as turkeys, chickens, quail and geese. Influenza in poultry is not a food safety or public health issue, officials said. The Minnesota Department of Health reports that no human infections with this strain of the virus have been detected in Minnesota or elsewhere in the U.S.
Last week’s outbreak caused Steele County officials to immediately activate a crisis plan, county administrator Laura Elvebak said. Emergency management director Mike Johnson coordinated the local effort with help from the USDA and the animal board, who are the lead agencies in the investigation. 
“We’re trying to be proactive and reduce the impact,” Elvebak told the Times. ”We want to minimize the exposure,” she said.
Within the control zone around the infected flocks, officials work to identify all premises with commercial and backyard poultry. Backyard flocks are placed under quarantine and cannot move poultry on or off premises. These flocks must complete two rounds of surveillance testing, all of which must be negative before quarantines can be lifted.
Commercial flocks undergo surveillance in accordance with USDA protocols. All commercial poultry producers in the control area also comply with stringent biosecurity and permitting protocols in order to move poultry or products off of their farms.
There are 10 large turkey farms in Steele County with about 416,487 turkeys, according to the USDA. In Dodge County, there are 11 large producers with about 343,816 turkeys.
The massive outbreak prompted Gov. Mark Dayton to declare a Peacetime State of Emergency. Under the plan, the Minnesota Emergency Operations Plan was activated to support the USDA and animal board to coordinate response efforts across the state.
Anyone with questions about the bird flu should contact a special hotline at 888-702-9963.

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