Bird flu found in two Delaware poultry flocks

Editor's Note: In order to stem the spread of the disease several countries have announced a ban on U.S. poultry imports. China, it was reported today, is the latest country to implement a such a ban. China imports nearly 2000 tons of poultry per day from the United States.

DOVER, Delaware, February 11, 2004 (ENS): Avian influenza has been confirmed on two Delaware poultry farms within the past 48 hours, but it is a different strain from the H5N1 virus that has devastated Asian poultry flocks and claimed at least 18 human lives since December. Effective immediately, agriculture officials have banned all sales of live poultry in the state.

The Delaware Department of Agriculture learned on Tuesday morning that avian influenza of the H7N2 viral strain is present on a second farm in Delaware. According to the Delaware Division of Public Health, there is no history of risk to humans with this particular strain.

This viral strain does not affect the safety of eating poultry from the Delmarva area that includes Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, health and agriculture officials said. But poultry producers on Delmarva are being urged to enforce the strictest of biosecurity procedures on their properties.

The first flu outbreak was reported Thursday in a flock of about 12,000 chickens in Kent County that was being raised to supply the live bird markets in New York City. All the birds were immediately killed to prevent spread of the disease, and a zone of quarantine imposed within a two mile radius.

But Delaware Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse said Tuesday that despite "aggressive measures" to contain the outbreak, officials from the University of Delaware Lasher Laboratory confirmed that a second poultry farm at least five miles away from the first infected flock has tested positive for the disease.

Lab results released Tuesday showed that the Kent County birds died of the H7N2 viral strain. Further testing is being conducted at the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa.

On Tuesday morning a H7 type of bird flu was identified in a commercial flock of roaster type chickens in northern Sussex County. The strain at the second infected farm is known to be H7, but the more specific N type is not yet known. The new infection was discovered after a flock supervisor took sickly chickens to the Lasher Lab for a determination of illness.

The flock of 72,000 birds 4.5 weeks old in three chicken houses was destroyed on Tuesday afternoon. The infected bird carcasses of both flocks were composted in their chicken houses.

The source of infection of the second farm is unknown at this time, said Scuse. Tests results Tuesday showed that all 20 farms within a two mile radius of the original infected farm were negative for avian influenza.

"At this time we can not explain how the virus appeared so far outside our original containment zone," he said. "This development is completely unexpected given the precautions we took, the investigation we made, and the industry's expectations of this disease's behavior.

"We will be taking immediate actions to contain this disease, but this is now a serious situation for the Delmarva poultry industry," Scuse warned. Delaware's broiler chicken industry dominates Delaware and Delmarva agriculture.

There are more than 75 poultry farms within six miles of the infected farms, all of which are under quarantine until further notice. Birds over 21 days of age on these farms will be tested every 10 days for evidence of the virus.

Avian influenza is most often transmitted from one bird to another through mud and manure that can be tracked from farm to farm on shoes or vehicles. It can also be transmitted from bird to bird through the air.

Therefore, Scuse said, there will be no spreading of poultry manure in areas north of Route 50. Feed delivery trucks will only deliver to one farm per trip, and will undergo rigorous cleaning before and after leaving each farm.

"As secretary of agriculture I will call the commercial fertilizing companies and enlist their cooperation. All of the cages and equipment used to transport chickens will also be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected on a routine basis. Within 72 hours of shipping birds to market, there will be a pre-slaughter testing on farms within six miles of the infected farms," Scuse ordered.

The Delaware Department of Agriculture is asking anyone with small numbers of backyard chickens or other poultry to report any disease or suspicions of disease immediately to the department at 302-698-4566.

Effective immediately, the agriculture department is canceling all scheduled farmer and grower meetings and is asking that all sales or auctions of farm equipment be cancelled in order to prevent spread of the disease.

Scuse is also seeking the cooperation of utility workers when they visit farms for telephone, natural gas, or electric needs to rigorously clean shoes and tires before moving on to the next service call.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Georgia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has told Americans traveling to Asian countries with the H5N1 strain bird flu in humans and animals to take precautions. The agency has not recommended that Americans avoid travel to any of the affected countries but is providing information for travelers on where outbreaks are, measures to take before travel, precautions to follow while abroad, and what to do if illness occurs during or after travel.

Outbreaks of H5N1 infection have been found in poultry in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Thailand, and Viet Nam. The virus was also confirmed in a single peregrine falcon in Hong Kong.

To date, the Ministry of Health of Thailand reported five human cases of H5N1 bird flu; these patients have died.

Of the 15 human cases reported in Vietnam to date, 11 have died. Several of these patients were confirmed as having the H5N1 strain of the virus.

So far, no definitive evidence has been found of human-to-human transmission, and no H5N1 infections have been documented among healthcare workers.

China reported four new suspected bird flu outbreaks on Monday, including one in the northern municipality of Tianjin, which had previously not been affected, state media said. Tianjin municipality is located close to the capital Beijing, which has yet to report any outbreaks. Hubei, Yunnan, and Shaanxi provinces had reported other outbreaks earlier.

The source of exposure in the human cases of H5N1 influenza is under investigation, although most human cases have been linked to direct contact with diseased birds.

The co-circulation of human and highly pathogenic animal influenza viruses is of serious concern to the CDC, the World Health Organization, and other health authorities worldwide, since an exchange of genes between the two viruses might occur if individuals were co-infected with both human and avian influenza viruses.

This gene exchange could give rise to a new influenza virus to which humans would have little or no immunity and which could be transmitted from person to person, the CDC warns.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.

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