- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

Avian influenza was reported yesterday in four live-chicken markets in New Jersey after a routine round of tests.

State officials said they were still testing to pinpoint whether the H7N2 strain is identical to a similar strain at two Delaware farms.

Another discovery of a low-pathogenic virus not harmful to humans comes just days after outbreaks in Delaware led to the eradication of more than 84,000 chickens.

The H7-type strains in both states are less virulent than the avian influenza that is ravaging the Asian poultry industry. That disease is responsible for at least 19 deaths in Vietnam and Thailand and the slaughter of more than 100 million birds.

Clifton Lacy, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, said there is a small chance that the weak strain could mutate into a stronger form that would affect humans, but added that has happened only a few times in the past century.

New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Charles Kuperus said the agency typically finds bird flu during the winter months in 40 percent of its 35 live-bird markets.

The state tested the markets in January, as it normally does each year, and had received results for half of the sites yesterday, state veterinarian Nancy Halpern said.

Dr. Halpern said the infected sites were in the northeastern part of the state, but would not give exact locations.

Operators at infected markets are required to quickly sell off all their birds, which are slaughtered before sale, close down and disinfect the area. The markets go through additional testing before they can be reopened.

The source of the bird flu in the markets was not known, though Dr. Halpern said avian influenza could come from the state’s 900 bird farms or other states. The markets, which are generally one-person operations, receive birds from Northeastern states and Canada.

None of the birds that tested positive showed outward signs of illness, Dr. Halpern said, emphasizing that infected chickens are safe for consumption if properly cooked at temperatures higher than 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The state has no plans to ban chicken transport or close live-bird markets.

So far, Delaware’s Agriculture Department has tested 36 of the 80 chicken farms within six miles of its two infected sites.

“We are cautiously optimistic because no new cases of avian influenza have been discovered,” Agriculture Secretary Michael Scuse said yesterday in a statement.

The first case of bird flu was found in Delaware last week on a noncommercial farm in Kent County that sold to the live-bird market in New York City. It was again found Tuesday on a commercial farm that grew for an unidentified chicken company.

Delaware banned the sale and transporting of live birds on Tuesday and required commercial producers to conduct additional pre-slaughter tests for birds being transported to processing plants.

Farmers meetings, including the governor’s agriculture conference at the University of Delaware Feb. 20, and farm equipment auctions were canceled.

Maryland’s Agriculture Department also banned live poultry markets on the Eastern Shore, said spokeswoman Julie Oberg.

Several countries, including China, Poland, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea, have banned U.S. poultry imports since the bird flu discoveries. Russia, the nation’s largest chicken customer, has suspended chicken imports from Delaware.

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