Bird flu outbreak confirmed at commercial duck farm in South Georgia

Food chain unaffected, but about 30,000 birds will be euthanized to contain the outbreak
Microbiologist Anne Vandenburg-Carroll tests poultry samples collected from a farm located in a control area for the presence of H5N1 avian influenza, or bird flu, at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on March 24, 2022 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Microbiologist Anne Vandenburg-Carroll tests poultry samples collected from a farm located in a control area for the presence of H5N1 avian influenza, or bird flu, at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on March 24, 2022 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/TNS)

State and federal authorities are working to contain Georgia’s first bird flu outbreak of the year in a commercial poultry operation.

Ducks at a commercial breeding farm in Sumter County tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)/H5N1 earlier this week, the Georgia Department of Agriculture said Wednesday. The impacted farm was quarantined, and officials will have to euthanize about 30,000 ducks to prevent the highly contagious virus from spreading among other water fowl. The deadly virus has been detected this year in wild birds in Georgia and other states.

Avian influenza, particularly the H5N1 strain, has been widespread in wild birds and migratory birds and can infect commercial poultry farming operations, spreading like wildfire. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the virus poses little risk to humans and infections are rare. State officials said no affected ducks entered the food chain from the operation in Sumter County, which is about 150 miles south of downtown Atlanta.

The H5N1 virus has not only ravaged wild bird populations globally, but it has devastated populations of turkeys, chickens, penguins, sea lions, minks and other bird and mammal species in recent years, many in the U.S. The virus has been responsible for deaths among commercial water fowl and nesting bald eagles, primarily in Coastal Georgia. In recent weeks, similar outbreaks at commercial poultry farms have been reported in Atlanta, Florida, Tennessee and multiple Midwestern states.

“While HPAI does not represent a significant threat to humans or the safety of our food supply, its impact on poultry is devastating,” Agriculture Commission Tyler Harper said in a news release. “We’ll continue to work overtime with our partners at (USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) to protect Georgia’s poultry industry.”

In Sumter County, the flock’s owner noticed signs of neurological impairment Saturday following by a few bird deaths Sunday. The incident was reported, and officials identified HPAI on Monday at the University of Georgia’s Tifton Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. The UDSA confirmed the results Tuesday.

To contain any further outbreak, officials will test and monitor all flocks within a 10 kilometer radius. As of Wednesday, no other birds have tested positive for HPAI within that area.

Commercial poultry, one of Georgia’s largest industries, has been unaffected by HPAI in recent years. The last cases to affect Georgia’s chicken industry were in 2015. Georgia is the country’s top producer of broiler chickens, and its poultry industry is worth an estimated $28 billion.

To keep the virus from infecting other commercial birds, experts called on flock owners to be vigilant about reporting suspected cases and maintaining biosecurity protocols for those entering and exiting poultry farms.


More on highly pathogenic avian influenza

Symptoms of HPAI/H5N1 in birds include lethargy, tremors and seizures. Officials say that sick birds should not be handled and all suspected infections should be reported to the state’s Avian Influenza Hotline at 770-766-6850.

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