The fifth incidence of a highly lethal bird flu in Minnesota marks the first time the virus has hit two commercial turkey farms in close proximity to each other.

Late Thursday, state animal health regulators announced that a fifth turkey farm — and the second one in Stearns County — had been hit by bird flu.

Minnesota is the nation’s biggest turkey producer, and Stearns County is one of the state’s top producing counties. The latest Stearns County farm afflicted by the bird flu has 71,000 turkeys, according to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. It is the largest farm in Minnesota hit by the flu so far.

The latest outbreak occurred in one of three barns on the Stearns County farm. However, birds in the other two barns are being killed out of caution.

The H5N2 strain of highly pathogenic bird flu first surfaced a month ago in Minnesota at a turkey breeding farm in Pope County. Since then, the same virus has appeared in commercial turkey farms in Lac qui Parle, Stearns and Nobles counties.

The latest Stearns outbreak was announced just a few hours after Minnesota animal health officials had held a news conference on an outbreak revealed earlier Thursday morning.

The second bird flu site in Stearns County is within the 6.2-mile “control area” surrounding the first farm in that county hit by the virus, said Bethany Hahn, spokeswoman for the Board of Animal Health. A quarantine exists in the zone, and the state intensifies testing of birds.

In the control zone around the first Stearns County flu site, there are 15 to 20 other commercial turkey producers, Hahn said.

The lethal flu is believed to be spread by migratory wild birds that carry the virus but don’t appear to get sick themselves. The animal health board said on Thursday that there were no connections between the first four farms hit by the flu.

On Friday, the animal health board didn’t yet have complete information on the fifth outbreak, so it could not yet say if it has any connection to outbreaks at other farms, Hahn said.

State officials say they are prevented by law from disclosing the exact locations of the farms affected.
The number of birds that have died or are soon to be destroyed now totals 241,000. About two-thirds of that number have been killed as a precaution, the rest from the flu itself, according to the animal health board. Minnesota churns out about 46 million turkeys annually.

State health officials say the bird flu poses no risks to food safety and a very low risk of spreading to people. Workers at the infected farms have a higher risk, but so far none has shown symptoms of the flu, according to the state health department.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003