10/31/05 — Vets say testing will stop bird flu

View Archive

Vets say testing will stop bird flu

By Turner Walston
Published in News on October 31, 2005 1:57 PM

Local poultry producers are keeping an eye on the avian influenza virus that is spreading across the world, but they are confident screening processes used in this country will keep the disease from infecting flocks here.

But that doesn't mean back yard growers should let down their guard, officials said.

"The risk for here is not zero, but it's a low risk," said Dr. Donna Carver, a veterinarian with North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

Precautions are being taken nationwide to prevent the introduction of the H5N1 variation of avian influenza into this country, she added.

Locally, Dr. Carver said Cooperative Extension is taking steps to educate people about the virus, which she says might not be the epidemic some have predicted.

"A little over 60 people have died worldwide from this virus in the last eight years," she said. "We're expecting about 1,000 people to die from human flu in North Carolina this year."

Dr. Carver said wild waterfowl are the most likely carriers of avian influenza, and they do not display symptoms like chicken and turkeys. So, back yard growers need to be cautious, she said.

"They need to keep the birds from coming into contact with wild birds of any kind, if they can. Especially wild waterfowl," she said.

Growers should not raise chickens and turkeys alongside ducks and geese, Dr. Carver added.

"They're a natural host for avian influenza," she said of the waterfowl. "They shed it in their feces, but they don't get sick. If the chickens and turkeys get infected, they get respiratory disease."

Dr. Carver said growers who notice respiratory disease symptoms should take the affected birds to a diagnostic lab.

"In most cases, it's not avian influenza, but you should know what it is you're trying to treat," she said.

Dr. Carver said experience with avian influenza has led to stricter testing in North Carolina. "We have very active surveillance program in place here, based on the viruses we've dealt with over the years," she said.

In Wayne County, commercial poultry industry workers have long been screening for diseases.

"We were monitoring for flu before Asian flu ever became an issue in the news," said Dr. Becky Tilley, a veterinarian with Goldsboro Milling Company. "We have strict biosecurity, not just for the flu, but for other poultry diseases also. There are numerous diseases that could cause illness and death in our birds, so we are constantly trying to prevent any introduction of disease into our flocks."

She said the company performs more than 1,500 blood tests monthly.

Dr. Tilley said looser poultry regulations in foreign countries have allowed the virus to breed overseas.

"The poultry industry is a lot different in the United States," she said.

Here, birds are confined in houses, and are handled by a limited number of caretakers. The poultry are also screened for diseases by veterinarians. Dr. Tilley said there is less opportunity for a virus to be introduced.

When a virus is found in an exporting country, Dr. Tilley said other countries will ban imports from that country. That leads to shifts in the global poultry marketplace.

"They might pick up that product from another country," she said.

To this point, the bans from avian influenza have not greatly impacted the United States' turkey industry, Dr. Tilley said. That could change soon, though.

"One of our customers is Russia, and with the introduction of the asian flu into Europe, I would not be surprised if we saw increased demand for U.S. product in Russia," she said.

Dr. Carver said that is a major reason to protect the American product.

"This is a huge issue for us all the time, and that's why we have such a good surveillance system in place, really to protect the overseas market," she said.

Agencies on local, state and federal levels are contributing in keeping avian influenza out of the country, Dr. Tilley said.

The federal government is monitoring migratory birds on the West Coast.

"Probably our biggest risks are the migratory birds that would come from Asia," she said. "They've collected about 12,000 samples so far, and everything's negative. I feel good about the amount of testing that we're doing."