The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed avian influenza on a western Minnesota turkey farm.
The USDA says the "highly pathogenic" strain of the virus is the same type of flu found among wild birds in the Pacific Northwest recently, but the commercial flock in Minnesota's Pope County is the first case in the Mississippi River flyway.
MPR News reports nearly 15,000 turkeys died on the farm and while the state Health Department is monitoring four workers who had contact with the birds, no humans have been sickened.
The USDA says the farm was quarantined and surviving turkeys euthanized so that no birds from the affected flock will enter the food system.
Bill Hartman, state veterinarian with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, expressed confidence the virus can be contained, telling MPR "The good news is there aren't any (other) commercial turkey or poultry at all in that area."
Turkeys are big business in Minnesota
Minnesota is the biggest turkey-producing state in the U.S. KARE 11 says industry officials estimate Minnesota farms produce 46 million birds per year.
A growing number of them are sent overseas. While 2013 numbers put the value of the state's turkey exports at $93 million , the leader of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association tells KARE the figure is closer to $200 million today.
Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson tells MPR the state's turkey industry is valued at $750 million a year and supports nearly 4,000 jobs.
A serious outbreak of avian influenza could put a big dent in that.
According to a news report from the University of Minnesota Thursday, an outbreak of avian flu in South Korea and Taiwan has led those countries to destroy 2.7 million birds in recent months.
The two strains detected there include H5N2, which is the type of flu found in the Pope County turkeys and in recent cases in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
The Capital Press reports the Washington outbreak last month killed about half the birds it infected, while the rest had to be euthanized.