Georgia officials find bird flu strain in domesticated flock

FILE - In this Oct. 21, 2015, file photo, cage-free chickens walk in a fenced pasture at an organic farm near Waukon, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File) (Charlie Neibergall, Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribu)

Officials have confirmed a highly contagious variety of bird flu in a backyard flock in southeast Georgia.

Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said Thursday it was the first confirmed case of highly pathogenic avian influenza in domesticated birds in Georgia this year.

The Toombs County resident who kept the a flock of chickens, turkeys, ducks, peafowl and other birds told WJBF-TV that dozens of his ducks died in a 24-hour period. He asked officials to investigate, and samples taken Monday confirmed the presence of bird flu. Officials killed more than 350 birds to prevent the spread of the disease and disinfected the farm.

Georgia has the nation’s largest poultry industry, and Black said that if bird flu spread to commercial operations, it “could have a devastating impact on poultry farmers but also to the state’s economy as a whole.”

Officials said Georgia was the 36th state where the H5N1 bird flu strain was found in domesticated birds, with tens of millions of birds affected. Before now, officials had only detected it in wild birds in Georgia.

An earlier bird flu outbreak included a northwest Georgia chicken farm in 2017.

Louise Zavala, executive director of the Georgia Poultry Laboratory, said officials are testing birds on all commercial poultry farms within 6 miles (10 kilometers).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says humans are at very low risk of contracting bird flu. One case was detected earlier this year in a Colorado state prisoner who was culling infected poultry. Infections in other countries sometimes happen among people who spend long periods unprotected around infected birds. the CDC says.

Georgia has banned poultry shows, sales and swaps since February to try to keep the flu from spreading.

Poultry flock owners who note large numbers of sick or dead birds are urged to call the Avian Influenza Hotline at 770-766-6850.