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Deadly strain of bird flu spreads to more U.S. turkey farms

MINNEAPOLIS -- A deadly strain of bird flu was confirmed Friday at four more turkey farms in Minnesota, raising the number of farms affected in the country's top turkey-producing state to 13 and the toll at farms across the Midwest to over 1 million.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the new cases of the highly contagious H5N2 strain are in Cottonwood, Lyon, Watonwan and Stearns counties. It was the fourth farm in Stearns County to become infected in the outbreak first confirmed in early March. The four new farms housed a combined 189,000 turkeys. Officials said those not killed by the virus will be euthanized to prevent the disease from spreading.

Once those birds have been euthanized, the 13 affected Minnesota farms will have lost 872,000 turkeys. Since the outbreak began, 19 farms in Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas have lost more than 1 million birds. All but one are commercial turkey farms.

The outbreak has already prompted dozens of countries to place temporary restrictions on poultry imports from the U.S., a business that's normally worth $5.7 billion a year. Affected products include turkey and chicken meat, along with eggs, fertile hatching eggs and breeding stock.

Canadian officials confirmed Wednesday that a turkey farm in southern Ontario with 44,800 birds is also infected with H5N2.

Officials continue to stress the risk to public health is low and that there's no danger to the food supply.

The largest farm hit was a huge 310,000-bird farm in Meeker County owned by Jennie-O Turkey Store, the country's No. 2 turkey processor, where the virus was confirmed Wednesday. The Minnesota Board of Animal health said Friday that all the remaining turkeys there would be destroyed. Officials weren't initially certain if that would be necessary.

Hundreds of commercial flocks near the affected farms in Minnesota and other states have been quarantined as a precaution.

Scientists suspect that migratory waterfowl such as ducks are the likely reservoir of the virus, but haven't confirmed any wild birds with the disease or any presence of the virus in their droppings in Minnesota so far. Officials are trying to determine why the virus has been evading the strict biosecurity that's standard practice at commercial turkey farms. But they've said the virus can be accidentally carried into barns by farm workers and their equipment, or by rodents and wild birds that sneak into barns.

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