By P.J. Huffstutter
(Reuters) - A strain of highly pathogenic H5 avian flu that had recently been found only in the Western United States has been confirmed in a backyard poultry flock in Indiana, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Monday.
The eastward spread of any strain of the H5 virus is worrying to farmers and state and federal investigators alike, who have hoped that warmer spring weather would help lower the number of infections in birds and curtail the virus' spread.
The U.S. poultry and egg industry has been grappling with the biggest-ever outbreak of avian influenza in the United States.
The H5N8 strain in Indiana is the same one that had been previously confirmed in the Pacific flyway, specifically in commercial chicken and turkey farms in California and a backyard poultry flock in Oregon, as well as in captive falcons in Idaho and Washington, according to the USDA.
Indiana state officials and USDA investigators could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
A different strain of the H5 virus, H5N2, has been spreading rapidly across the Midwest in recent weeks and resulted in nearly 30 million birds either dying or being killed due to the outbreak.
The case in Indiana expands this outbreak's reach of bird flu to 15 states. USDA said a federal veterinary laboratory confirmed the test results and the site in Whitley County, Indiana, has been quarantined. The birds on site will be culled to try to contain the spread of the virus, USDA said in a statement.
There have been three strains of highly pathogenic H5 that have been identified in North America in this outbreak.
The H5N2 strain has been reported in Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin. It has also been identified on farms in British Columbia and Ontario, Canada.
The Canadian authorities also have confirmed the H5N1 strain was found in British Columbia, Canada.
(Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis)