ANNAPOLIS – Maryland agriculture and poultry industry officials continued their efforts to stave off an outbreak of avian flu, announcing they will expand testing for the economically devastating disease to a wider zone of the state’s poultry farms.
No new cases of the flu had been found as of Friday, said Maryland Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Sue duPont.
“I think we’ve been very effective in containing the disease,” duPont said. “We don’t necessarily think we are out of the woods yet but we’re cautiously optimistic.”
The department increased scrutiny of state poultry farms after the H7 strain of the virus was found two weeks ago on two farms in Delaware’s Sussex and Kent counties, resulting in the slaughter of about 100,000 chickens.
The H7 strain cannot be communicated to humans, unlike the recent outbreak of H5N1 strain of avian flu in Asia.
Poultry production propels the state’s agricultural industry, accounting for 37 percent or $600 million of Maryland’s $1.6 billion farm revenues, according to the department.
Crews from Maryland, Delaware and the federal government tested 79 bird houses on 34 farms within six miles of the Delaware sites where the outbreak originated.
And beginning Wednesday, testing zones will be expanded over Camden, Laurel and Dagsboro in Delaware and Hurlock and Salisbury in Maryland, said Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.
Teams of about 25 people will test birds ready for processing within a 35-by-40-mile grid and expand into a 50-by-55-mile grid later this week, Satterfield said.
“We’re doing everything we can to stop the progress of this disease,” he said.
It is the first time avian flu had occurred in the commercial broiler industry in the Delmarva region, Satterfield said, though there had been a flu outbreak among game fowl in 1993.
But Satterfield said the outbreak was not a complete surprise.
“We were well prepared, as much as anyone can be prepared when an emergency occurs,” he said.
The industry had an emergency procedure manual for more than 20 years, Satterfield said, which allowed them to respond “quickly and decisively” to the situation.
In addition, an Emergency Poultry Disease Task Force has been in place since 1982 to deal with such situations, he said.
Maryland and Delaware farmers have had to run a tighter ship since the flu was discovered.
Workshops, training courses, meetings and live poultry markets have since been cancelled and disinfecting procedures implemented to contain the spread of disease.
Despite the restrictions, Satterfield said, the industry had not had sustained any significant economic loss.
“This is not an epidemic. I would not even characterize it as an outbreak,” he said.
And Maryland agriculture officials vow keep it that way, duPont said.
“We are continuing to look and look hard for diseases.”