By Gavin Off
From The Charlotte Observer

A strain of the avian flu that forced the killing of some 370,000 chickens and turkeys in North Carolina has prompted the state to halt all poultry shows and public sales.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced the suspensions Tuesday afternoon. They include farm tours, exhibitions, swaps, and flea and farm markets, among other events.

The culprit is lethal High Path Avian Influenza. Poultry farmers have worked to keep the virus out of their barns since February by limiting who enters, sanitizing vehicles, even requiring workers to change footwear and clothes.

“We do not make this decision lightly. HPAI is a serious threat to our poultry industry and this is a precaution to help limit the introduction of the virus to backyard and commercial flocks,” said Mike Martin, state veterinarian.

This is the second time North Carolina has canceled poultry shows because of the avian flu, said Heather Overton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture. The first time was in 2015.

But this is the first time North Carolina has had an outbreak in its massive commercial flock.

Poultry is big business in North Carolina, with poultry and eggs sales reaching $4.19 billion in 2020, tops in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Thousands of farms raising chicken and turkeys in long, tightly packed barns operate across the state. Many farms sit just north or east of Mecklenburg County. Others stretch from north to south near Interstate 95 to the east.

Seven commercial poultry operations—four in Wayne County and three in Johnston County—have detected infected birds, according to the state. The first outbreak was detected just a week ago at a turkey operation in Johnston County, where 32,100 turkeys were killed and composted.

“A lot of people say, ‘That’s way in eastern North Carolina and that doesn’t impact me because I’m in the mountains or I’m here in the Piedmont,” Overton said. “Really the whole state is at risk. It’s not just a Johnston County thing. It’s not just a Wayne County thing.”

Following that first outbreak, state and industry officials began testing flocks within a 6.2-mile radius of the turkey farm, including all of Johnston and parts of Sampson and Wayne counties.

All cases so have been detected within that surveillance zone, Overton said. The state draws a new 6.2-mile surveillance zone around each new case, she said.

In all, more than 90,000 turkeys and 280,000 broilers have been killed and composted at farms so far. Officials said they hoped that would reduce the spread of the virus. The disease poses a risk to backyard flocks too.

Wild birds and people can spread avian flu from farm to farm, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Workers can transport it too if they carry traces of infected bird manure or saliva into barns.

As of last week, 48 poultry operations in 13 state have reported the bird flu. It has also been detected in 144 wild birds in North Carolina, including a dead bald eagle in Davidson County.

©2022 The Charlotte Observer. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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