A ban on the sale of poultry in Virginia took effect yesterday after state officials discovered antibodies to the avian influenza, a deadly virus also known as bird flu.
However, the birds were discovered with antibodies for a milder strain, known as the H5 viral strain, that is not the severe, highly pathogenic strain that forced widespread flock destruction and some human deaths in countries in Asia.
Virginia health officials found avian flu antibodies in more than 50,000 turkeys on a farm west of Mount Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley.
The discovery of antibodies indicated that the birds may have come in contact with the virus but doesn’t necessarily mean they have it. Neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture nor Virginia health officials have found the actual virus.
In addition to the ban on poultry sales to manufacturers and wholesalers, the state put a prohibition on poultry shows and exhibitions, as well as application of poultry litter, manure or bedding in 17 counties. The ban against shows and sales will remain in effect statewideuntil July 30 unless extended by the state veterinarian.
“Within a six-mile radius of this flock, there will be extensive, intensive testing and investigation of other poultry there to make sure it has not spread,” said Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation.
In 2002, poultry farms in Virginia learned of a major outbreak of the bird flu that led to the slaughter of 5 million birds. That outbreak forced the state to change its testing policy. Before the 2002 outbreak, Virginia health officials tested birds for avian flu when they reached the slaughterhouse. Now, the testing is done on the farm, 72 hours prior to transportation to a slaughterhouse.
“Our initial reaction was not, ‘oh not again,’ it was, ‘the system is working,’ ” said Elaine Lidholm, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Agriculture Department. “These birds never made it off the farm to the slaughterhouse.”
By discovering antibodies related to the avian flu on the farm rather than at the slaughterhouse, the threat of the disease spreading as the birds were transported was avoided, she added.
During an outbreak of bird flu among poultry, there is a risk to people who have contact with infected birds or surfaces that have been contaminated by infected birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms of bird flu in humans have ranged from typical human flulike symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches to eye infections.
Of the human cases associated with the ongoing outbreaks in poultry and wild birds in Asia and parts of Europeand Africa, more than half of those people with the virus have died.
But human-to-human spread of the virus has been limited. For example, in 2004 in Thailand, the virus spread from an ill child to her mother after prolonged and close contact. Most recently, in June 2006, the World Health Organization reported evidence of human-to-human spread in Indonesia. Eight persons in one family were infected.
In the United States, there have been no human cases of bird flu.
Vaccines effective against a pandemic virus are not available. Although a vaccine against the most common type of the virus is under development in several countries, no vaccine is ready for commercial production and no vaccines are expected to be widely available in the near future, according to the CDC.
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