Avian flu lab breaks the bad news to MN turkey farms
Before the avian influenza outbreak killed hundreds of thousands of turkeys in Minnesota, one farm suspected the virus and one university lab confirmed the news. Since that first case four weeks ago, technicians at the Veterinary Diagnostics Lab at the University of Minnesota work double shifts and weekends testing about 100 samples a day for the highly pathogenic H5N2 bird (Avian) flu virus. Lab workers went from doing routine tests that produced mostly negative results, to quickly detecting the virus in many of the samples. Farmers from around the state send in samples collected from the birds’ trachea. As federal authorities confirmed a ninth Minnesota turkey farm is dealing with a strain of avian flu, the only lab in the state that can test for the virus is working overtime just to keep up.
The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory on the University of Minnesota campus normally has 5 technicians qualified to do the testing. Because of the outbreak, they now have 12 working all day and weekends. “We’re working double shifts basically,” said Liz Wiedenman, who heads the lab. “We routinely test for it, but we don’t see this many positives. This is unprecedented for us.” Investigators still don’t know why the virus made its way to Minnesota, but experts say typically the avian flu is spread by infected waterfowl that don’t experience any symptoms. That’s why Porter suspects the outbreak could get worse as more birds arrive with the warmer weather. “I don’t want to be a pessimist but I think we’re still in the early process in terms of identifying these cases. I hope I’m wrong,” he said. State officials do not believe there is any risk to the general public. They say no human has ever been infected with this strand of avian flu.