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The Nebraska Department of Agriculture and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said preliminary testing showed a fourth case of highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza in Nebraska. This case was found at a farm in Knox County.

The Knox County case is a flock of 3 million hens, the department said. Authorities do not identify the owners, but M.G. Waldbaum has a hen farm in Knox County, and the Nebraska Department of Agriculture said the farm is owned by the same operator as the three previously announced Nebraska cases in Dixon County, where Waldbaum also operates egg farms and a pullet operation. The Knox County farm is 50 miles from the Dixon County farms.

That makes 7 million birds that have been or will be destroyed in Nebraska since bird flu became epidemic in the upper Midwest, especially in Iowa, the nation's biggest state for poultry. 

The department quarantined the Knox County farm Wednesday morning and the preliminary test is expected to be confirmed Thursday at a federal laboratory. As with the three previous cases, a perimeter has been established around the Knox County farm, and the birds will be destroyed, the Nebraska department said. 

“I cannot stress enough the importance for all Nebraska poultry facility operators to ensure they maintain the strictest of biosecurity measures,” Nebraska Agriculture Director Greg Ibach said in a news release. “That means strictly limiting the traffic, both humans and vehicles, into and out of facilities in an effort to avoid any cross-contamination.”

Waldbaum's is owned by Michael Foods, which last year was acquired by Post Holdings, the cereal company.

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Post acknowledged on Wednesday that a third company-owned laying flock in Nebraska had tested positive for avian flu, which brought the total affected supply to approximately 35 percent of the company's volume commitments. 

Post management determined earlier this month that the avian flu outbreak "constitutes a force majeure event with respect to its Michael Foods egg business, the effect of which renders Michael Foods unable to fully perform under its existing supply agreements with customers."

The financial impact is being estimated, Post said. On May 14, the company estimated costs of $20 million, but that was before the latest two outbreaks on Waldbaum egg farms in Nebraska.  

Gov. Pete Ricketts issued a state emergency declaration on May 12 to provide the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and other state agencies with resources to address the HPAI situation.

The Centers for Disease Control considers the risk to people from HPAI H5 infections to be low.

Additional information on HPAI can be found online at www.nda.nebraska.gov.

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Reach Richard Piersol at 402-473-7241 or at dpiersol@journalstar.com

Twitter@RichardPiersol

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