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USDA: Strain of highly contagious bird flu detected in Kansas

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Friday that it had detected a strain of highly contagious bird flu in a poultry flock in Leavenworth County, Kansas, the latest flare-up in a multistate outbreak threatening U.S. poultry producers.

Earlier this week, the agency reported that it had detected the strain, a variation of the H5N2 avian influenza subtype, in commercial turkey flocks in Missouri Monday and then in Arkansas on Wednesday.

Authorities say they are taking steps to limit the virus’ spread in Kansas, including culling the affected birds and setting up a quarantine zone around the property where it was detected in a backyard chicken and duck flock.

The virus’ presence in Kansas is of particular note because the infected birds are on the path of the central flyway, a wild bird migration route that runs north-south through the middle of the country.

Wild birds can carry some types of avian flu without becoming sick, so the introduction of the disease along the major migration route may enable its spread. However, wildlife experts have pointed out that the virus traveled south from Minnesota to Missouri and Arkansas, while birds migrate north at this time of year.

This discrepancy may indicate that humans are responsible for the transmission of the virus, perhaps contaminating flocks through the accidental spread of infected birds’ feces.

Avian flu can travel quickly between birds, and is often fatal.

According to the USDA, as of Friday, no human infections with the virus have been detected, and the outbreak is not expected to pose a risk to the public.

The disease may affect the health of America’s poultry industry, though. More than 20 countries, including China, have restricted imports of U.S. poultry products since authorities detected avian flu in Washington state in December.

The current rash of outbreaks may prompt import restrictions from foreign countries, and U.S. poultry producers have already taken a financial hit.

On Wednesday, after the virus was detected in Arkansas, the stock prices of several major U.S. poultry companies declined sharply. Shares in Pilgrim’s Pride fell 4.2 percent, while Sanderson Farms dropped nearly 1.5 percent and Tyson Foods slid 5.1 percent.