Bird flu hits another U.S. farm that supplies Tyson Foods

quarantine researcher checking chickens on poultry farm for bird flu

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Bird flu that is highly lethal to poultry has infected a second commercial chicken farm in Tennessee that supplies Tyson Foods Inc, company and state officials said on Thursday.

The finding expands an outbreak near the major chicken-producing states of Alabama and Georgia, and is the second in the type of breeder flock crucial for keeping the chicken-meat industry supplied with birds. A case of less dangerous bird flu was confirmed in Alabama on Thursday.

In Tennessee, authorities have started to cull the infected flock of 55,000 chickens in Lincoln County, to contain the highly pathogenic H7N9 flu, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The farm was in a quarantine zone established after authorities this month found the same strain of the disease in a flock of about 73,500 chickens less than 2 miles (3.2 km) away, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture said. That farm also supplied Tyson, the world’s biggest chicken company.

“I’m sure on the part of the company they’re quite concerned and going back and reviewing all of their information and data to determine how in the world this got into the buildings,” said Bret Marsh, state veterinarian in Indiana, which had the nation’s only highly pathogenic bird flu case in poultry in 2016.

The initial case in Tennessee was the nation’s first infection of highly pathogenic bird flu at a commercial operation in more than a year. Tennessee also recently detected a less-dangerous case of low-pathogenic flu in another chicken flock.

On Thursday, Alabama said the USDA confirmed a suspected case of low-pathogenic flu in a guinea fowl at a flea market as H7N9. Aviagen, the world’s largest poultry breeding company, has culled chickens in the state over concerns about the disease.

Highly pathogenic bird flu led to the deaths of about 50 million birds, mostly egg-laying hens, in the United States in 2014 and 2015.

Another widespread outbreak could represent a financial blow for poultry operators because it could kill more birds or require flocks to be culled. It also would likely trigger more import bans from trading partners, after South Korea, Japan and other countries limited imports after the first highly pathogenic case in Tennessee.

China has also been grappling with an outbreak of H7N9, which has killed 161 people since October. U.S. authorities have said that strain is genetically distinct from the H7N9 in Tennessee and that the risk of the disease spreading to people from poultry or making food unsafe is low.

Tyson said it worked with Tennessee and federal officials to quickly euthanize birds in the infected flock and did not expect disruptions to its chicken supply.

“Our business is diversified and scaled across multiple states, so we plan to meet our customers’ needs,” spokesman Worth Sparkman said.

Tyson shares fell 1.7 percent to close at $62.00 on Thursday.

The company has said it tests all the birds it owns for the virus and flocks diagnosed with highly pathogenic flu are not processed.

Wild birds can carry the disease without showing signs of sickness and transmit it to poultry through feces, feathers or other forms of contract.

(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis)

Poultry breeder Aviagen culls U.S. flock over bird flu fears

FILE PHOTO: The Avian influenza virus is harvested from a chicken egg as part of a diagnostic process in this undated U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) handout image. Erica Spackman/USDA/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Aviagen [EWESJA.UL], the world’s leading poultry breeding company, has euthanized chickens at a farm in Alabama over concerns about bird flu, the company said on Tuesday, as likely cases of the disease emerged in a top chicken-producing state.

Alabama officials said they suspected that poultry at three sites in the state were infected with the virus, about a week after some 90,500 chickens were culled over infections at two commercial operations across the border in Tennessee.

Aviagen detected the presence of antibodies for the flu virus in a flock in Alabama that showed “no evidence of clinical disease,” company spokeswoman Marla Robinson said in an email. The company is based in Alabama.

The company euthanized the flock and “all eggs which were collected from that farm in the production system were traced and removed,” she said. Aviagen did not respond to a question about how many birds were killed.

Tony Frazier, Alabama’s state veterinarian, said the company chose to cull about 15,000 birds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said the farm had 153,000 birds.

A national USDA lab is testing samples from poultry in Alabama to identify the strain of the virus and how lethal it is for birds, after another agency-approved lab identified the H7 subtype of the disease in samples, USDA spokeswoman Lyndsay Cole said.

The birds in Alabama did not show clinical signs of sickness, which indicates they did not have a highly lethal, or pathogenic, form of the virus, Cole said.

In Tennessee, both cases were identified as H7N9. The USDA on March 5 confirmed that one was the United States’ first infection of highly pathogenic flu in commercial poultry in a year. Days later, the state said it had found the other case nearby and it was low pathogenic.

Highly pathogenic bird flu led to the deaths of about 50 million birds, mostly egg-laying hens, in the United States in 2014 and 2015.

Another highly pathogenic outbreak would likely represent a financial blow for poultry operators such as Tyson Foods Inc and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp because it would kill more birds or require flocks to be culled.

It also would likely trigger more import bans from trading partners, after South Korea, Japan and other countries limited imports after the highly pathogenic case in Tennessee.

Health officials have said the risk of bird flu spreading to people from poultry or making food unsafe was low.

Separately, Frazier said the owner of a backyard flock suspected of having the virus chose to cull about 70 birds. No poultry linked to the third suspected case, which involved birds at a flea market, have been culled, he said.

Frazier said the cases were still only suspected flu infections and needed to be confirmed by the USDA. Earlier, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries called a news conference to discuss what it said were three findings of avian influenza.

Alabama raised more than 1 billion chickens for meat in 2015, making it the country’s third largest producer, according to the USDA.

The national USDA laboratory, to which samples from the state were sent, is the only one in the United States that officially confirms cases.

The World Organization for Animal Health requires that all confirmed low-pathogenic H5 and H7 bird flu subtypes be reported because of their potential to mutate into highly pathogenic strains. Highly pathogenic cases also must be reported.

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Frances Kerry, Toni Reinhold)

Bird flu strikes Tennessee chickens again, in a less-dangerous form

The Avian influenza virus is harvested from a chicken egg as part of a diagnostic process in this undated U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) handout image. REUTERS / Erica Spackman / USDA / Handout via Reuters

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A commercial flock of 17,000 chickens in Tennessee has been culled after becoming infected with low-pathogenic bird flu, state agricultural officials said on Thursday, days after a more dangerous form of the disease killed poultry in a neighboring county.

Authorities killed and buried chickens at the site in Giles County, Tennessee, “as a precaution” after a case of highly pathogenic flu in Lincoln County led to the deaths of about 73,500 chickens over the weekend, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. It said officials did not believe birds at one premise sickened those at the other.

Highly pathogenic bird flu is often fatal for domesticated poultry and led to the deaths of about 50 million birds, mostly egg-laying hens, in the United States in 2014 and 2015. Low-pathogenic flu is less serious and can cause coughing, depression and other symptoms in birds.

The highly pathogenic case in Tennessee was the first such infection in a commercial U.S. operation in more than a year and heightened fears among chicken producers that the disease may return.

The spread of highly pathogenic flu could represent a financial blow for poultry operators, such as Tyson Foods Inc and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp, because it would kill more birds or require flocks to be culled. It also would trigger more import bans from other countries, after South Korea, Japan and other nations limited imports because of the case in Lincoln County.

Jack Shere, chief veterinary officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said in an interview that there was speculation the highly pathogenic virus found in Tennessee shared similar characteristics with a low-pathogenic virus that circulated in Tennessee, Kentucky, Minnesota and Illinois in 2009.

Wild migratory birds can carry the flu without showing symptoms and spread it to poultry through feces, feathers or other contact.

“This virus can mutate very easily, so low-pathogenic issues are just as important – when they are circulating among the wild birds – as the high-pathogenic issues,” Shere said.

Both cases in Tennessee were located along the state’s southern border with Alabama, one of the country’s top producers of “broiler” chickens for meat. They also were both in facilities for chickens that bred broiler birds and involved the same strain, H7N9, according to Tennessee’s agriculture department.

The state said it was testing poultry within a 10-kilometer radius of the Giles County site for the flu and so far had not found any other sick flocks.

“When routine testing showed a problem at this facility, the operators immediately took action and notified our lab,” said Charles Hatcher, Tennessee’s state veterinarian.

H7N9 is the same name as a strain of the virus that has killed people in China, but U.S. authorities said the Tennessee virus was genetically distinct.

U.S. officials have said the risk of bird flu spreading to people from poultry or making food unsafe was low.

Low-pathogenic bird flu also was recently detected on a turkey farm in Wisconsin. Authorities there decided to keep the birds under quarantine until they tested negative for the virus, rather than to cull them, according to the state.

(Additional reporting by Mark Weinraub in Washington, D.C.; Editing by G Crosse, Richard Chang and Bernard Orr)

Woman’s Holiday Trip Leaves Her Quadruple Amputee

A woman’s 4th of July trip to Grand Lake has left her without parts of her arms and legs thanks to one tick bite.

Jo Rogers, a mother of two, took her family for a holiday getaway to Grand Lake in northeast Oklahoma.  When she returned home, she mentioned to family members she was not feeling well, thinking that she had picked up the flu during her trip.

The following day, family members rushed her to the hospital when Rogers said her hands and feet hurt.  Within hours Rogers was placed into a medically induced coma as her limbs began to turn black and blue at the tips and then spread up her arms and legs.

Doctors finally noticed a tick bite and discovered she had an aggressive form of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF).  While there is treatment for RMSF, it must be started in the early days of infection and doctors say that Rogers missed that initial time frame.

The initial symptoms of RMSF mimic that of a cold or flu with headache, fever, vomiting and muscle pain.  Oklahoma is one of five states where the rate of infection from the disease is three to 10 times the national average according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“She is still on a ventilator and being kept sedated to help with pain.  Although she will have insurance for a couple more months, her medical bills are mounting daily and will continue as she will be in the hospital for many more months with rehab, prosthetics and home and car renovation to accommodate her needs,” her family wrote on a GoFundMe page.

CDC Says Flu Vaccine Just 23 Percent Effective

Early estimates of the flu vaccine show that it has been just 23 percent effective at preventing doctor visits for all ages.

The flu vaccine is not the worst ever, as one vaccine this decade has been as low at 10 percent effective, but the low totals are enough for the Centers for Disease Control to urge doctors to increase antiviral prescriptions should a patient show signs of flu.

The weakness of the vaccine is blamed on the prevalence of the H3N2 strain of flu that is circulating most among citizens.

“Physicians should be aware that all hospitalized patients and all outpatients at high risk for serious complications should be treated as soon as possible with one of three available influenza antiviral medications if influenza is suspected, regardless of a patient’s vaccination status and without waiting for confirmatory testing,” said Joe Bresee, branch chief in the CDC’s Influenza Division.

The vaccine was showing 26 percent effectiveness in children six months through 17 years but only 14 percent for adults over 50.

The flu season is being called “moderately severe” by the CDC.

CDC Declares National Flu Epidemic

The Centers for Disease Control has officially declared a flu epidemic.

The number of states reporting high levels of flu jumped from 13 to 22 last week and the CDC says there are now flu outbreaks in every region of the country.

The CDC also said that 15 children have died as a result of this year’s flu outbreak, 6 of them in Tennessee alone.  East Tennessee Children’s Hospital has reported 442 children with flu already this year.

ABC Chief Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser said on Good Morning America that about a hundred children a year die from the flu.  He said that children, the elderly and anyone with a compromised immune system are at highest danger for death.

The CDC says the H3N2 subtype is the strain in 90 percent of confirmed flu cases.

Dr. Besser said that the flu season has been striking earlier during the last few years and he called it a “worrying trend.”

He advised anyone in a high risk category to get a flu shot.

CDC: Too Late To Make Flu Vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control says that it’s too late in the flu season to create a vaccine to fight the predominant strain of flu virus in the United States.

The strain, influenza A (H3N2) has mutated since the current flu shots were created and the current shots are only partially effective in containing the virus.

CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said it would take up to four months to create a new flu vaccine even if newer technologies are used in creation.

Doctors say that the H3N2 strain has been especially severe when dominant and that without good match in a vaccine the likelihood of increased hospitalizations and deaths significantly increases.

The CDC is still recommending a flu shot because they say it could provide partial protection against H3N2.  They also say that if someone comes seriously ill with the flu it’s vital they be taken to a hospital for treatment.

Flu Growing Among Younger People

The Centers for Disease Control is noticing a disturbing trend in the current flu season.

The CDC says that significantly more adults between 18 and 64 have been hospitalized because of the flu than in previous years.  According to their weekly survey of the flu, more than 61.5 percent of hospitalized patients were between the 18 to 64 age group, an 80 percent increase from last year.

Almost 2,500 specimens sent to the CDC for testing that showed positive for the flu. Of that group, almost 96% tested positive for the H1N1 swine flu.

The alarm from the CDC is echoing among medical providers who are seeing deaths among previously healthy young adults. Last week a 29-year-old mother of three died just a few days after exhibiting flu symptoms.  A 41-year-old man also died from the flu.

The CDC says the country has not yet reached epidemic level but the number of states showing widespread influenza rose from 25 to 35 last week.

Flu Shot Makes Girl Fall Asleep 30 Times A Day

A 15-year-old Australian girl is suffering from a rare form of narcolepsy after receiving a flu shot.

Chloe Glasson is one of 100 people confirmed worldwide to develop narcolepsy after being injected with the anti-swine flu vaccination Pandemrix.

“She has gone from being a bright, outgoing girl to one who cannot go out on her own,” Chloe’s mother, Rebecca Glasson, told News Limited. “She doesn’t doze for more than a couple of hours at a time, but she can have disturbing dreams.”

GlaxoSmithKline, manufacturer of Pandemrix, said they are researching why their drug is causing narcolepsy in some patients. GSK said they hope their ongoing research will provide more answers.

The CDC recommends flu shots for anyone older than 6 months.

Seasonal Flu Outbreak Now Widespread

The Centers for Disease Control is reporting that flu is now widespread in over half the United States.

The CDC says that a majority of the cases is the H1N1 virus that caused a worldwide pandemic in 2009.

The flu peaks in the United States between October and March. The CDC said that the spread this year is quick with at least 25 states having confirmed cases.

The CDC says at least six children in the United States have died from H1N1 and cannot say how many adults may have died from it as they do not track adult deaths from the flu. Texas has been particularly hard hit with 25 deaths this flu season.

Texas officials have told health care providers in the state to begin anti-viral treatments even if rapid flu tests come back negative and a patient is showing signs of the flu.