Avian Flu has now been found in three U.S. states, Pennsylvania
and New Jersey are the latest states reporting incidents.
Delaware diagnosed it's first case February 9.
HARRINGTON, Delaware, February 15, 2004 -- CropChoice
news -- James Dao, NY Times, 02/13/04: These
are fearful days in the birthplace of America's chicken
of contries banning U.S. birds
February 17, 2004: There are currently
20 plus countries with bans on U.S. poultry.
The extreme response comes after an Avian
flu strand in Asia turned deadly. The U.S.
strand is unrelated to the Asian virus.
Ban on all U.S. poultry
Ban on poultry from only from
Ban on poultry from New England
Like a medieval plague that appears without warning
and spreads with speed, an avian flu has infected two
chicken farms near here, threatening to cut a deadly
swath through the most valuable agricultural industry
in Delaware and Maryland.
Though no new cases have been detected since the second
of the two outbreaks was identified on Feb. 9, state
officials are still testing scores of farms within six
miles of the two affected farms, concerned that the
virus has been spread by migrating geese, air currents
or even farmers themselves.
The influenza strain, known as H7, is not a danger
to humans, and is not even particularly deadly for chickens.
But if allowed to spread, health experts say, it can
mutate into a more virulent strain for animals. Consequently,
the state typically orders entire flocks destroyed when
even a single bird becomes infected.
So far, nearly 86,000 birds at the two farms have been
killed, a tiny fraction of the 576 million chickens
raised last year on the Chesapeake Bay's eastern shore.
But if the virus spreads widely, it could cause devastating
economic losses to this griddle-flat peninsula, which
encompasses southern Delaware, eastern Maryland and
a tiny piece of Virginia. (Hence its nickname, Delmarva.)
"To get a disease in here that you can't cure,
that you can't vaccinate for, well, that could cause
the destruction of millions of birds worth hundreds
of millions of dollars," said Vance Phillips, 41,
a chicken farmer in Sussex County, Del., which produces
more chickens than any other county in America. "For
a rural community, that's a pretty tough hit to take."
Delaware officials say a slow response to an avian
flu outbreak in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia two
years ago may have contributed to the rapid spread of
the disease, which caused the destruction of more than
four million chickens and turkeys worth $130 million.
The chicken industry is to Delmarva what Wall Street
is to Manhattan or steel once was to Pittsburgh. There
are 2,000 chicken farmers on the peninsula, who last
year generated $1.5 billion in sales. An additional
14,000 people work in chicken processing plants run
by four major companies: Perdue Farms, Allen Family
Foods, Mountaire Farms and Tyson Foods. Chicken farming
accounts for more than a third of Maryland's agricultural
income, and more than two-thirds of Delaware's.
The virus identified in Delaware is a different strain
from the H5N1 virus in Asia, which has caused the slaughter
of millions of birds there and killed at least 18 people
in Thailand and Vietnam. Though both strains are carried
by chickens, officials say the H7 strain has never been
known to affect humans.
The outbreak has not been serious, yet. But because
of it, 14 countries, including China, Mexico and Brazil,
have banned imports of chickens from Delaware —
and, in some cases, from all of the United States. Foreign
exports account for about 7 percent of Delmarva's chicken
For that reason, the state and the industry moved rapidly
to contain the outbreak as soon as the first report
of infection was confirmed at a small independent farm
in Harrington on Feb. 6. The farm's 12,000 chickens
were destroyed and farms within two miles were quarantined.
For three days, officials thought the outbreak was
over. But on Feb. 9, the virus was detected in a flock
in Greenwood, Del., five miles away, and real fear set
in. This was a first: the flock was owned by Perdue,
and no commercial farm in Delaware had ever been infected
by avian influenza before. (The vast majority of the
peninsula's chicken farmers work for the major processing
companies, which scrupulously tend to their flocks to
prevent flu infections.)
The farm's 73,800 birds were quickly destroyed and
the quarantine was extended to six miles around the
two farms, an area covering about 80 farms. Life immediately
became very strange for chicken farmers.
These days, farmers wait by their televisions and radios
each day for reports on whether new outbreaks have been
found. "It's kind of jittery, like right after
9/11," said a man named Johnny at a farm equipment
store in town.
The virus can be carried on shoes, clothing, hair,
tires and just about anything else that moves. To avoid
its spread, farmers in the quarantine area have been
told to keep people off their property and to avoid
congregating with other farmers. Auctions, church dinners
and monthly farm group meetings have been canceled.
Equipment repairmen and chicken inspectors have stopped
The quarantine could last three to four more weeks,
even if no new infections are discovered, officials
When fuel or feed delivery trucks do come to farms,
they are accompanied by decontamination teams that spray
down their wheels and undercarriages with disinfectant.
When farmers do go into town, they are asked to wash
their hair, change their clothes and disinfect their
Adding to the surreal quality of the quarantine, health
officials in white biohazard suits have arrived in government-issue
vans, stopping to draw blood from sample chicken carcasses
that farmers leave in roadside containers.
"It's pretty weird," said Louise Messick,
68, who runs a chicken farm with her husband, Bill,
69, half a mile from the original outbreak. "Everyone
is scared right now."
Bill Messick has gone into town just once since last
weekend. But he considers himself one of the lucky ones:
his chickens tested negative, and he was able to send
56,000 seven-week-old birds to the processing plant
"We can't go nowhere and no one can come in,"
he said from the edge of his property.
In Harrington, gas stations, restaurants and grocery
stores are reporting drop-offs in business as farmers
stay home. At Peoples Restaurant on Clark Street, Irene
Layton, one of the owners, said customers had even stopped
ordering her famous chicken dishes out of misguided
fears that they could catch the virus.
"I had one woman tell me she wasn't feeling well
and thought she had caught the bird flu while driving
through the area," Mrs. Layton said.
It is widely believed that the chicken industry was
born on the Delmarva peninsula, when Mrs. Wilmer Steele
discovered in 1923 that she could make more money selling
chickens than eggs. The Perdue family got its start
here, and the company's headquarters is still in Salisbury,
Health officials say they believe the original Delaware
infection came from a live animal market in New York
City. Commercial farmers do not sell at the live markets,
which are known as breeding grounds for disease, but
independent farmers frequently do. Live markets are
also thought to be the source of recent avian flu outbreaks
in New Jersey.
For that reason, farmers and commercial processors
say they may push for regulations to clean up the live
markets once the current outbreak is contained.
"When we talk about avian influenza on this peninsula,
people pay attention," said Bill Satterfield, executive
director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., a trade
group. "Nobody wants to be the guy who spread it."