WASHINGTON – The Maryland Department of Agriculture encouraged state poultry farmers to take extra precautions Tuesday after officials confirmed a second case of avian influenza on a Delaware farm.
Maryland farms have been operating under “heightened surveillance” since last Friday, when the first case of bird flu was discovered in Delaware’s Kent County.
Workers effectively isolated the first bird-flu case by quarantining the farm and slaughtering 12,000 chickens that came in contact with the virus, said Daniel Perez, a professor of veterinary medicine for the University of Maryland.
That’s why the second case — which led to the slaughter of 72,000 chickens on the Sussex County farm where it was confirmed — came as a surprise Tuesday.
“This development is completely unexpected given the precautions we took, the investigation we made and the industry’s expectations of this disease’s behavior,” Delaware Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse said in a prepared statement.
The chickens that tested positive were infected with the H7 strain of the flu virus, less deadly than the strain currently plaguing Asia, H5N1, which poses a health risk to humans.
Nevertheless, Asian countries, including Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea, banned all U.S. poultry imports when they caught wind of the flu in Delaware. Other nations, such as Russia and Hong Kong, have banned imports from Delaware only.
Nathaniel Tablante, a poultry veterinarian with the extension service, said the Delaware bird flu poses no risk to humans and has no connection to the case in Asia. But a case in Delaware — harmful or not — probably means that the virus has spread elsewhere, he said.
“The point is that it doesn’t really matter where the outbreak is. It’s a regional problem, a national problem. The problem of one state is the problem of everybody,” Tablante said.
The avian flu is an airborne illness that can be transmitted from one bird to another through mud and manure and can be tracked from farm to farm by mobile sources, such as vehicles.
Delaware officials said they will hold discussions with industry, epidemiology and agriculture experts from surrounding states and the federal government to design a course of action.
Officials with Delmarva Poultry Inc., an industry group, could not be reached Tuesday to comment on the latest outbreak.
The Maryland Agricultural Department helped Delaware test farms near the first flu site, said Maryland spokeswoman Sue DuPont, and warned farmers here to watch for any “suspicious activity” that might be connected with the virus.
Maryland will continue to help Delaware until the bird flu is under control, at which point it will begin local testing, DuPont said. She said the state’s plans to test Maryland chickens this week were postponed after Tuesday’s case.
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