MINNEAPOLIS – Highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza has spread to Stearns County, Minn., one of the state's largest poultry-producing locations.

Officials with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health reported March 29 that the US Department of Agriculture is working with a producer to finalize a plan for the appraisal, indemnity and cull of the remaining birds. The plan will include carcass disposal and cleaning and disinfection of the farm's facilities. The board also launched an epidemiological investigation.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed the presence of H5N2 in a commercial turkey flock of 39,000 birds in Stearns County. This is the third confirmation in a commercial flock in Minnesota. Stearns County ranks second in turkey production in Minnesota and it is also a top chicken and egg producer.

The Minnesota Board of Animal health noted that there are several commercial poultry farms and backyard flocks in the control area. The board said animal health officials are in the process of contacting the owners, issuing quarantines and collecting samples for avian influenza testing.

The board also announced that birds remaining on an affected farm in Lac Qui Parle County have been euthanized. The next step at that farm is carcass disposal by composting inside the barns.

Officials identified 13 backyard flocks in the control area. Premises in the control area were quarantined, and the birds have been tested for the virus. Results from 12 flocks were negative. Results are pending from one flock sample that was tested on March 29.

Meanwhile, 30 backyard flocks that were tested a second time in Pope County were negative for the virus. Officials with the state's Animal Health Board returned to the control area to test the flocks the weekend of March 21.

However, a commercial turkey farm remains under quarantine, animal health officials said. The H5N2 strain was confirmed on March 5. Birds in only one of five barns were infected, but officials culled all of the birds to prevent spread of the virus. The turkey carcasses were composted inside the barns which will take about one month to complete, officials said. The board is working with the USDA to determine when quarantines can be lifted in Pope County.