As bird flu cases climb in Minnesota, state and federal officials work to prevent a repeat of 2015

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In just about a week, the number of flocks in Minnesota affected by Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or bird flu, has more than doubled.

Cases were reported among two flocks on Saturday, March 26, and grew to seven by the following Friday.

The flocks range in size from 115 to 240,000 birds.

“It’s alarming right now,” said Dr. Beth Thompson, the Minnesota State Veterinarian. “We see occasionally Low Pathogenic Avian Flu introduced but Highly Pathogenic, [and] this is really the first big introduction since 2015 into the United States.”

Minnesota is the top producer of turkey in the United States. According to state officials, more than 600 turkey farms statewide raise about 40 million birds annually.

During the 2015 outbreak, 108 farms in Minnesota were affected, according to the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center.

It’s estimated the 2015 bird flu outbreak cost Minnesota’s economy nearly $650 million.

State officials are now working with a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) emergency response team to prevent current cases from spreading further.

“We are out there on those farms that have infected flocks, and then we’re also doing surveillance and watching very closely around those flocks, making sure the virus isn’t being carried into those flocks in other areas,” said Dr. Thompson.

Dr. Thompson explained, “generally, once the poultry starts showing some clinical signs, they’re just not doing well, their water consumption may drop, they may have some respiratory signs … any of those signs going on, we know that within 24 to 48 hours poultry will die of this virus.”

The state is also banning live poultry sales and exhibitions until May 1 to reduce the opportunity for the virus to spread.

“We know people in the spring in Minnesota like to bring poultry to smaller sales where they’re selling poultry to each other,” said Dr. Thompson. “We also know there are some swaps that are going on. All of that should stop at least for a few weeks here until we get into May and can reassess.”

The pause does not affect products being sold in grocery stores.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture spokesperson Allen Sommerfeld told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, “We don’t anticipate food supply issues at this time. More than 240 million turkeys are produced in 25 states across the country, and this ensures consumers will be able to find turkey products.”

Cases of bird flu have grown nationwide, with more than 20 states now affected, from Maine to Wyoming.

“Hopefully, as we move through the spring and as the migratory birds move further north and get over our state, we’re going to see less virus being introduced, and we can start lifting some of the bans that we have been in place,” said Dr. Thompson.