By Tom Polansek | CHICAGO
A form of bird flu that is highly lethal for poultry has infected a second commercial chicken flock in Tennessee that supplies Tyson Foods Inc, the company and the state’s agriculture department said on Thursday.
The finding expands an outbreak near major chicken-producing states in the southern United States such as Alabama and Georgia.
The flock in Lincoln County, Tennessee, was infected with H7N9 highly pathogenic flu, the same strain that was reported in another chicken flock less than 2 miles (3.2 km) away on March 5, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
The initial case was the nation’s first infection of highly pathogenic bird flu at a commercial poultry operation in more than a year.
Highly pathogenic bird flu led to the deaths of about 50 million birds, mostly egg-laying hens, in the United States in 2014 and 2015.
Another widespread outbreak could represent a financial blow for poultry operators such as Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp because it could kill more birds or require flocks to be culled.
It also would likely trigger more import bans from trading partners, after South Korea, Japan and other countries limited imports after the highly pathogenic case in Tennessee.
Tennessee’s second case hit a chicken breeder flock that was within a quarantine zone established around the site of the first infection, according to the state’s agriculture department. It said operators at the second site were regularly testing poultry for signs of the virus.