- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

RICHMOND State agriculture officials are moving to wider and speedier testing of poultry flocks in an effort to stop an outbreak of avian influenza that has spread to four Virginia counties and to chickens as well as turkeys.
Starting yesterday, positive readings from a single virus test, known as a directigen test, will result in an order to destroy the affected flock, said Elaine Lidholm, director of communications for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Previously, state veterinarians required that initial positive readings from a different test be confirmed by the state or by a federal laboratory in Iowa, a process that could take up to a week. The test used previously looked for virus antibodies, while the directigen procedure tests directly for the virus itself and so provides faster and more reliable results, Miss Lidholm said.
Every bird destined for slaughter in Virginia will undergo the directigen test before it leaves the farm, Miss Lidholm said.
The streamlined testing is needed because the avian flu outbreak has continued to spread, she said.
The virus has been detected in 19 turkey flocks and one flock of broiler chickens. So far, 61,000 birds have been destroyed, with another 235,000 awaiting a similar fate. The virus has been found in three counties Augusta, Page and Shenandoah in addition to Rockingham County, where it was first detected in mid-March.
Some Virginia poultry industry observers have suggested that the virus entered the state from a flock sent for slaughter from North Carolina. However, Miss Lidholm said there was no evidence to support that contention. "No one knows where it came from," she said. "It could have come from various sources, including wild birds."
Even so, Virginia is requiring that North Carolina birds earmarked for slaughter in Virginia receive the directigen test before they will be allowed into the state, she said.
Mike Blanton, assistant commissioner with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, confirmed that two farms in Anson County, N.C., have tested positive for the disease.
"We've been aggressively doing testing" and taking other measures to prevent any spread of the illness since receiving the test results late last week, Mr. Blanton said. No other birds have tested positive since then, he said.

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