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Officials in Arkansas on the hunt for avian flu, sharing tips on what to look out for

It's officially duck season in Arkansas, but now a new strain of avian flu has officials in the state hunting for more possible cases.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Avian flu has arrived in Arkansas, and Patrick Fisk, who is Director of Livestock and Poultry at the Department of Agriculture, isn't holding back.

"Right now, we're probably at the highest risk," Fisk said. "Now that we are also seeing the effects of the virus happening on wild birds, it's increased that intensity of concern."

 For Fisk, that comes with several potential problems.

"No doubt, I mean, this is our number one largest industry," Fisk said. "160,000 jobs contributed to this, almost 50% of total cash receipts."

Fisk explained that there have been three confirmed cases of bird flu so far in Arkansas.

According to Arkansas Game and Fish data, four counties have confirmed activity, and 31 counties have had a suspicion of activity.

"This is the first time we've had anything quite like this in our state," Dr. Jenn Ballard of the State Wildlife Veterinarian at AGFC said. "But it is a new viral strain, and so the observations that people are making are genuinely very different."

Dr. Ballard also echoed Fisk and said the new strain is concerning for a handful of reasons.

"The vast majority of observations are probably not getting reported, so it would help if people report," Dr. Ballard said. "We've had over 300 reports of sick or dead birds."

Fisk and Dr. Ballard highlighted the symptoms seen in this new strain of avian flu, which includes: birds suddenly dying, acting with "drunk-like symptoms," swelling of the head and gasping for air could mean a bird has avian flu.

While the situation is concerning for the experts, they do want to emphasize that right now this strain of avain flu does not appear to pose a threat to people.

"Fortunately, it does not appear to pose a significant risk to people," Dr. Ballard said. "That risk seems to be very low."

Fighting this isn't easy— both Dr. Ballard and Fisk explained they know that firsthand. 

While that may be the case, Fisk added that having common sense is the best way to see this through.

"It is kinda taxing at times, and it can get challenging," Fisk said. "Don't let your guard down at all, though, because right now, this is the highest risk."

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