DUBOIS - State officials say they have now eliminated the flocks of turkeys infected with an avian flu (H7N8), but the work is far from over. Authorities say the depopulation of 10 flocks of turkeys totaling more than 350,000 birds that tested positive for the virus was completed Wednesday. The state reports they also destroyed 155,000 chickens that did not test positive for the virus, but had "dangerous contact with one of the infected flocks."
"This is not anywhere close to over," said Denise Derrer with the Indiana Board of Animal Health. "We still are composting the dead birds over the next 30 days and we are continuing surveillance and testing of birds and that will probably continue into March. This virus is unpredictable and it has been our experience it could pop back up at any time."
The Board of Animal Health is the lead agency on the massive effort to control the bird flu outbreak. Between state, federal and local agencies more than 500 people are part of the response team. "Our agency is mostly veterinarians who deal directly with the disease," said Derrer. "We don't have a lot of expertise when it comes to organizing things like mobile offices and port-o-potties. We are working with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security on those things."
The Unified Incident Command Post in Jasper besides the Board of Animal Health and Department of Homeland Security includes the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, State Department of Health, Department of Environmental Management, Indiana Department of Corrections, Indiana State Police and mental health services from the Family and Social Services Administration. Other organizations and agencies on site include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Indiana University, Vincennes University, Dubois County Emergency Management Agency and the Dubois County Health Department.
"There have been no indications that this flu outbreak has jumped to humans," said Derrer. "We are working closely with the Dubois County and State Health Department to monitor that."
Daviess County has also been assisting in the effort. "We had three fire departments take tankers down there," said Daviess County EMA Director Paul Goss. "We also provided them with several boxes of plastic sheeting."
"This response is massive," said Washington Township Fire Chief Tony Wichman, whose department took water to Jasper. "You can't believe how many people are involved in this."
Officials say the large response is necessary.
"This is what we are required to do for the eradication of a highly contagious pathogen," said Derrer. "Some people may think it's just turkeys, but it has international trade agreements involved. That's why the USDA is here."
State officials have marked a 10-kilometer radius around the infected flocks for additional surveillance. As an added precaution an additional 10-kilometer control zone has been put into place extending the surveillance and testing into Crawford, Daviess, Martin and Orange Counties. State officials say 114 commercial farms have tested negative in the area. All commercial farms in the surveillance and control areas have had one round of testing with no positive results.
State officials also went door to door, visiting more than 900 residences in the area to identify small flocks of poultry, known as backyard flocks, to identify where they are and test them. In all, 27 small flocks were found in the area.
"We work with Homeland Security a lot doing planning and drills for situations like this," said Derrer. "It appears that training has paid off because the response has been very orchestrated, swift and on target."
The state also had praise for the local and regional response to the events.
"We can't say enough about how great the people here and in the region have been to work with," said Derrer. "We're very grateful for that."
Even though the worst appears to be over, officials say they will continue to work in the area.
"We are not done," said Derrer. "The depopulation is done, but we still have to complete the disposal and surveillance. We intend to remain aggressive in our testing. Things could change in a moment and we need to be ready for it."
Officials point out that the H7N8 flu is not food borne and that people who take normal food safety precautions with eggs and poultry should have no problems.