An avian influenza outbreak at a turkey farm near Cameron has resulted in the euthanization of more than 46,000 birds, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The DATCP announced that it has identified highly pathogenic avian influenza in Barron County on Saturday, April 9. Jennie-O confirmed the same day that one of its flocks in Wisconsin had been affected, in addition to several flocks in Minnesota.

The birds on the property were culled to prevent spread of the disease. After euthanization, the carcasses are typically buried and composted.

This is Wisconsin’s fourth detection of avian influenza among domestic flocks. In an effort to prevent spread of the disease, DATCP issued an order on April 7 immediately suspending poultry shows and exhibits through May 31. Poultry owners are asked to continue using strong biosecurity practices and, when possible, move birds indoors.

To report increased mortality or signs of illness among domestic birds, contact DATCP at (608) 224-4872 (business hours) or (800) 943-0003 (after hours and weekends). Signs of HPAI in infected birds include:

• Sudden death without clinical signs

• Lack of energy or appetite

• Decrease in egg production; soft, misshapen eggs

• Purple discoloration of wattles, comb, and legs

• Difficulty breathing

• Runny nose, coughing, sneezing

• Stumbling or falling down

• Diarrhea

Wisconsin State Veterinarian Darlene Konkle said this is the first year since 2015 that avian influenza has impacted domestic flocks.

The outbreak of the disease seven years ago struck nine commercial farms—including five Barron County turkey operations—and one backyard flock in Wisconsin, leading to the mass euthanasia of nearly 2 million birds between April and May 2015.

Earlier this month the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced that HPAI had been found in wild birds in five counties: a Cooper’s hawk and a bald eagle in Dane County, a lesser scaup from Columbia County, a red-tailed hawk from Grant County, a Canada goose from Milwaukee County and a trumpeter swan from Polk County.

Avian influenza is typically transmitted to domestic birds from waterfowl.

Jennie-O stated, “Jennie-O Turkey Store has been preparing for this situation and took extensive precautions to protect the health of the turkeys in its supply chain. Jennie-O Turkey Store will continue to work with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service as well as poultry industry associations on this issue. USDA and the National Turkey Federation are monitoring and responding to the situation and remind consumers that HPAI does not pose a food safety concern.”

Jennie-O’s parent company, Hormel Foods, did not respond to requests for further comment.

The current strain impacting birds in Wisconsin is known as EA H5N1. It was first discovered in North America in 2021, according to the DNR.

The 2015 strain was EA H5N2. The six turkey operations affected then included three farms near Barron and three others near Rice Lake, Cameron and New Auburn.

The DNR is also asking the public to be on the lookout for impacts to waterfowl, water birds, raptors—especially bald eagles—and other avian scavengers, such as crows, ravens and gulls showing signs of tremors, circling movement or holding their heads in an unusual position.

Anyone who sees a sick or dead bird should not touch them with bare hands. Use gloves or a plastic bag if touching is necessary. Wash your hands with soap and water and throw away any gloves that come into contact with the birds. The virus can spread to humans, though it is rare.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, avian influenza does not present an immediate public health concern. Avian influenza also does not pose a food safety risk; properly handling and cooking poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165˚F kills the virus.

Barron veterinary lab not involved

Though the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in Barron is important to the day-to-day operation of the regional poultry industry, it is not involved in testing for the current outbreak of avian influenza.

Lab director Keith Poulsen said PCR testing is being done at the UW veterinary diagnostic lab in Madison, with the turnaround time being 24-30 hours.

He said it would be ideal to have that testing done in Barron, but the lab is not equipped with the necessary biosafety infrastructure.

“This is part of the reason why a $10 million expansion of the lab was funded in the state budget,” said Poulsen.

Last summer the State Legislature approved the funding in the 2021-23 biennial budget to enable a 4,000 square foot expansion and remodel of the existing 5,600 square foot Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in Barron.

Unfortunately, that expansion is still a long way off. The state put out a request for proposals in February, but no bids were received.

Poulsen said the project will be reconfigured and re-released for bidding in April, with more active recruiting of potential bidders.

He said the endeavor has strong support from Barron County officials, local legislators and agricultural interests.

“We’re working hard to try to strengthen that facility,” said Poulsen.