Cold weather hindering Indiana’s bird flu battle

Penned turkeys look through the fencing on a poultry farm in Evans City, Pa. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH/AP) — Frigid temperatures are hampering efforts to euthanize turkeys at several southwestern Indiana farms where bird flu was found last week.

The weather has frozen the foam that kills the birds. The virus was discovered on 10 turkey farms in Dubois County, which is Indiana’s top poultry-producing county.

Workers are trying to euthanize flocks as quickly as possible so the bird flu doesn’t spread.

The first infection was confirmed last week at a 60,000-turkey farm with connections to major Indiana-based producer Farbest Farms, which has contract growers in Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky. But the other nine farms contract with several companies, Derrer said, and officials are investigating whether the virus might have been spread by workers with those companies traveling between farms or whether it was wild birds, wind patterns or other methods.

State and federal workers, low-level prison inmates and workers at the farms have been euthanizing more than 245,000 turkeys — plus the chickens — prevent the virus’ spread. They’ve finished the job at seven of the 10 affected farms, Derrer said, and are racing to finish at the other three farms before a winter storm that could bring several inches of snow arrives overnight.

“The weather’s going to get worse overnight, with the wet snow coming in, so they’re putting the pedal to metal,” she said.

Cold weather is still posing problems for crews using a suffocating foam to kill the birds, she said, adding that even though water was freezing in hoses, most of the birds have been killed using that foam. Carbon dioxide gas and a device that delivers a fatal head injury are also being used.

No additional cases of the H7N8 strain have been found in the 6-plus-mile control zone around the first farm, she said Tuesday. Indiana’s state veterinarian has also created a precautionary “surveillance zone” that extends another six miles beyond the control area and officials are testing farms and backyard flocks, too.

“We’re trying to be really aggressive on testing in that extended area to make sure there’s no virus still floating around out there that’s going to pop up later. We’re trying to do the best we can,” she said.

Everyone euthanizing the birds is wearing protective suits, face masks, gloves and plastic booties, Derrer said.

The state Department of Health and local health officials are monitoring everyone who’s had contact with the birds for 10 days to make sure they don’t develop flu symptoms; the USDA has said no human infections from the viral strain have been detected.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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