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Low-pathogenic bird flu strikes Tennessee chickens

Tribune file photo

CHICAGO — A commercial chicken flock in Tennessee has been culled after becoming infected with low-pathogenic bird flu, the state's Agriculture Department said Thursday, days after a more dangerous form of the disease killed poultry in a neighboring county.

Authorities killed chickens at the site in Giles County, Tennessee, "as a precaution," and buried them, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. It said officials did not believe birds at the site sickened chickens infected with highly pathogenic flu in Lincoln County last week, or vice versa.

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.

Low pathogenic bird flu also was recently found on a turkey farm in Wisconsin.

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.

Jack Shere, chief veterinary officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said in an interview that there was speculation that 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 flu viruses without showing symptoms and spread them to poultry through feces or 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 both in facilities for breeding chickens for broilers and involved the H7N9 strain, according to Tennessee's Agriculture Department.