As a new avian flu outbreak continues to impact Midwestern producers, Arkansas poultry farmers and processors are taking extra precaution.

As a new avian flu outbreak continues to impact Midwestern producers, Arkansas poultry farmers and processors are taking extra precaution.

Poultry accounts for 40 percent of Arkansas’ $9.4 billion agricultural market, according to the Arkansas Poultry Federation. There has not been an avian flu case reported in Arkansas since March 11 when over 40,000 turkeys were culled in Boone County in north central Arkansas.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service, at least 7.3 million birds have been affected by a highly pathogenic form of avian flu since December 2014. More than half of that number comes from one egg-laying operation in Osceola County, Iowa, reported Monday to contain the highly pathogenic EA/AM-H5N2 strain. Many cases are pending, but another 300,000-bird flock in Minnesota was reported Wednesday.

The virus is thought to be spreading by wild migratory birds, but scientists are still uncertain exactly how.

"Right now everybody is going to a lot of effort to try to control it in any way they can," said Dan Hughes, Poultry and Egg Division manager for the Arkansas Livestock & Poultry Commission. "They’re just going to a lot of extra effort right now due to the fear of this avian flu that’s happening in a lot of other states. All of our companies that I’m aware of are really increasing their bio-security."

Hughes said precautions included washing vehicles and changing shoes and clothes in certain areas to limit any possible exposure to the virus.

Before this year’s, the last avian flu report in Arkansas was made on a Scott County farm near Boles in June 2013, but it was milder H7N7 strain and no other chicken houses in a 6.2-mile surrounding tested positive. Regardless, the incident had a major impact on sales with three foreign countries — China, Japan and Russia — halting imports of Arkansas chicken.

The USDA offers a number of bio-security measures that poultry farmers and small-flock owners can take to help limit the chances of a flock’s being infected. Some of these include not borrowing a neighboring farmer’s equipment and using bleach or other disinfectants on shoes, clothes and equipment.

"Just because you have a handful of layers that you’re using to raise eggs for your family doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have good bio-security measures," said Lance Kirkpatrick, Sebastian County Extension Agent for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Kirkpatrick said people with small flocks, for example, should not wear the same clothes they have worn in town to work among their chickens or other poultry.

"Don’t haul disease home on your truck or car. Clean and disinfect car and truck tires, cages and equipment before going home if you’ve been near other birds," the USDA website states.

Avian flu seminars across the state have been ongoing this year for F. Dustan (cq) Clark, the poultry health veterinarian for the University of Arkansas Center of Excellence for Poultry Science.

Clark said that researchers are currently trying to determine how avian flu is being transmitted through migratory birds. A task force of scientists, he said, is conducting studies in Minnesota, which has seen the most individual farm outbreaks of avian flu. Of the 49 flocks that have been reported so far, Clark said 31 of those have been in Minnesota. Two of those reports were for a low pathogenic strain and the rest are of the high pathogenic strain.

The birds are destroyed on site using a carbon-dioxide laden foam spray used by firefighters, Clark said, and the birds are often buried on site. This is how the Boone County turkeys were "depopulated."

Birds that act sick should be tested, he adds, and reported to a local veterinarian or cooperative extension agent. Signs of avian flu sickness from birds include sneezing, gasping for air, coughing, nasal discharge, watery and green diarrhea, lack of energy and poor appetite, swelling around the eyes and neck and head, purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs, tremors, drooping wings, circling, twisting head and neck or lack of movement.

Although Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still considers the danger to be low, both the USDA and the CDC are working to create a human vaccine for the bird flu virus in case it is needed.

Avian influenza viruses do not usually infect humans, the CDC states. However, several instances of human infections and outbreaks of avian influenza have been reported since 1997. Infection and disease in people caused by highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 infection have been identified in Vietnam and Thailand. On Feb. 1, 2004, the World Health Organization reported that laboratory test results had confirmed two fatal cases of human H5N1 infection in Vietnam in which human-to-human transmission may have occurred.

According to a article Thursday, USDA Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford and USDA Southeast Poultry Research Director David Swayne said they believed avian flu cases should drop off dramatically with the emergence of summer, but could come back in the fall.

Wild birds, who are believed to have been spreading the virus, have been returning to the north, the officers said. Swayne said he was not sure whether the birds would bring the virus back during their next migration to the South. However, he indicated it is likely, and that the poultry industry needs to be prepared.