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Bird flu infects sixth Lancaster County poultry operation resulting in another 18,000 bird deaths

A highly contagious and deadly strain of avian influenza was confirmed on a sixth Lancaster County poultry operation on Thursday, requiring 18,000 birds to be destroyed in hopes of curtailing the virus’s spread.

The farm’s exact location within the county was not revealed by officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

However, the infected property was identified as a facility producing “commercial broiler breeder pullets” — young birds that would later be grown for meat.

It was the second outbreak of the illness confirmed at a Lancaster County poultry operation this week and the sixth since mid-April.

Across all six commercial poultry properties, 3,825,800 birds — a combination of egg layers, meat birds and pullets — died as a result of the infection or, more likely, were depopulated, a term used to describe the quick euthanization of birds in a flock.

Depopulation is believed to be more humane than letting infected birds suffer from the virus, which causes severe illness and is most often fatal.

Control zones, stretching for 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) in every direction from an affected farm, have been established by state and federal agriculture officials. In those zones the transportation of poultry and related products is restricted (requiring permits), and flocks are subjected to far greater scrutiny.

Virus cases on local farms are part of a much larger outbreak that began in the United States in December. As of noon Thursday, the flu had infected 247 domesticated commercial or backyard poultry flocks in 29 states, according to the USDA. About 35.52 million birds have died or been destroyed nationwide.

So far, all confirmed cases of avian influenza at commercial poultry farms in Pennsylvania have been at farms in Lancaster County.

Experts have said they believe the virus made its way to the United States via an infected waterfowl migrating from Europe.

Avian influenza is most commonly spread when healthy birds come in contact with bodily fluids from an infected (wild or domestic) bird, state officials have said. However, it also can be spread on contaminated clothes or equipment worn and used by people.

Since the start of the outbreak, experts have encouraged farmers and backyard poultry growers to increase protective biosecurity measures. These include limiting nonessential access to farms; regularly cleaning farm-related clothing and equipment; not sharing equipment with other farms; and stepped up sanitizing of personnel and vehicles on farms.

In rare cases, humans have contracted avian flu, but experts, including at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said this outbreak poses a low risk to people.

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