05/04/06 — State poultry officials say avian flu no threat here

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State poultry officials say avian flu no threat here

By Turner Walston
Published in News on May 4, 2006 1:52 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Poultry officials held a regional meeting Wednesday at Duplin Commons to provide the poultry industry and the public with information about the threat of avian influenza.

Officials around the world are looking for ways to prevent the spread of the disease, which has erupted in a number of countries in Europe and Asia.

Dr. Sam Pardue, head of the Poultry Science Department at N.C. State University, said the purpose of the meeting was to spread information and calm fears about the disease.

"If each one of you will tell 10 people what you learn today, I think we can help build a saner perspective on what we're dealing with," Pardue said.

"It's not here yet," he added. "We don't have any recorded cases of bird flu. It is extremely rare that humans contract bird flu."

Dr. Donna Carver, associate professor of poultry science, said waterfowl have carried this particular strain of avian influenza for thousands of years.

"This is not something new," she said.

Waterfowl can infect commercially grown turkeys and chickens by excreting the virus through their feces.

This is the problem that we have with avian influenza," Carver said.

Influenza viruses are referred to by an "H-N" system. "H" stands for hemagglutinin, a molecule that is responsible for attaching the virus to an infected cell. "N" refers to neuraminidase, the enzyme responsible for spreading the virus to other cells.

H5N1 is the strain of avian influenza capable of infecting humans.

Carver said an H7N2 virus has circulated in commercial bird markets for more than 15 years.

"It's not a highly pathogenic virus, but it's been a concern for us for a number of years," Carver said.

Signs of H5N1-infected birds include secretions from eyes, dirty feathers over their shoulders where birds would wipe their eyes, green-colored diarrhea and a dark, purple comb with black tips due to poor blood circulation.

"The virus basically attacks every organ system in the body, including the blood vessels," she said.

If H5N1 is found on a farm, representatives from the state veterinarian's office will quarantine the farm. Flocks within a two-mile radius of infected birds will be tested within 48 hours, Carver said. Within a week, flocks in a six-mile radius will be tested.

"These birds will never leave that farm," she said. "We don't have to worry about those birds entering the food chain."

To stop the virus from coming to the United States, the imports of live poultry and poultry parts from infected countries has stopped, Carver said.

"Importing the virus is not likely to happen," she said.

Through federal programs, more than 500,000 tests were conducted on U.S. poultry in 2004. Additionally, wild birds are tested at random by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

"We have not found it in any waterfowl in the United States to date," Carver said.

Poultry grown in confinement is not a particularly high-risk situation, but poultry grown outdoors, where wild birds can mingle with a flock, can present problem areas, she said.

Carver said the effects of an outbreak of avian influenza on the U.S. poultry industry would be dramatic. A 50-percent reduction in per capita consumption of poultry has been estimated.

The U.S. exports about 5.5 billion pounds of poultry annually, Carver said, with 11.5 percent of that total coming from North Carolina.

Poultry makes up about 35 percent of North Carolina's farm economy, generating $2.8 billion annually, Carver said.

"That is a significant amount of money generated and put in the economy for growing poultry. We have a lot to lose in this situation if we don't go out and educated the people we know about the facts on avian influenza," Carver said.

In the past eight years, there have been about 288,000 deaths from human flu in the United States, Carver said. To date, deaths from avian influenza have totaled about 110 worldwide, Carver said.

"Bird flu is still an animal disease. It's not a human disease," she said. "Human flu is still much more of a threat to you than bird flu."

To become infected with bird flu, Carver said humans have to come into contact with secretions from infected birds. The virus cannot be spread from one human to another.

"If you don't come into contact with secretions like that, you cannot get the virus," she said.

Growers that suspect avian influenza in their flock should call their flock supervisor, Carver said. Additionally, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture office of the state veterinarian should be notified.

Dr. Mary Ann McBride, program development veterinarian with the state Agriculture Department, said human flu vaccines are not cross-protective of the H5N1 virus.

"We respect this avian influenza, but don't fear it," McBride said. "It's not something that we can't deal with and that we're not prepared to deal with," she said. "We have the relationships and the personnel in place to deal with it."

Poultry officials wanted to ensure the public had a true grasp of the virus, particularly in light of the fact that a television ABC movie "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America," a dramatization of the virus spreading to the United States will be broadcast Tuesday night at 8 p.m.