- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

Delaware officials reported yesterday that 19 of the 20 chicken houses at 12 farms tested for avian influenza were negative. The testing was necessitated after a discovery Friday of the bird flu at a farm in southern Kent County.

The state is now trying to persuade several countries to reopen trade with the $1.5 billion poultry industry in Delmarva, the peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

So far, South Korea, Singapore, Poland and Japan have halted imports of U.S. poultry. Russia, the largest importer of U.S. chicken, Hong Kong, the second-largest buyer, and Saudi Arabia have suspended chicken imports from Delaware.

Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a Democrat, said the bans were unwarranted.

“There is no evidence at this time of any threat either to humans or to commercial poultry in the situation we now face,” Mrs. Minner said at a press conference yesterday.

Delaware’s Agriculture Department will release today the remaining sample test and the type of virus strain at the farm, though the agency said early indicators point to the H7 strain, a less severe form of the virus that does not transmit to humans.

Avian influenza is an airborne respiratory virus that spreads easily among chickens through nasal and eye secretions and manure.

A highly pathogenic bird flu, which is a different strain than that found in Delaware, has crippled Asia’s poultry industry, killing 18 persons there and prompting the destruction of 100 million birds.

Ron DeHaven, the Department of Agriculture’s chief veterinarian, downplayed the Delaware outbreak, saying the bird flu is endemic and occasionally crops up on chicken farms.

The most recent U.S. outbreak of avian influenza was in summer 2002, when millions of birds in Virginia and West Virginia were quarantined for a less-potent strain of the virus.

Maryland’s most recent case was at a game-bird farm in Queen Anne’s County in 1993. Tens of thousands of birds were destroyed.

The current Delaware bird flu could wipe out entire chicken flocks. State officials and chicken companies in Delmarva planned to take extra precautionary measures to prevent any further spread of the disease.

Maryland’s Agriculture Department will test farms in Caroline County, which borders Delaware, said spokeswoman Sue Dupont.

The transportation of chicken in and out of Delaware has been suspended, except for flocks for Delmarva’s four chicken companies, Tyson Foods Inc., Allen Family Foods Inc., Mountaire Farms and Perdue Farms Inc.

Allen, a Seaford, Del., chicken producer, is reducing its visits to farms and monitoring its five growers who were tested in the two-mile radius, said Operations Vice President Mike Pilcher.

Tyson’s closest grower to the infected farm is 20 miles away, said Ed Nicholson, spokesman for the largest U.S. chicken producer.

The Springdale, Ark., company said it will limit farm visits by field technicians.

Perdue, a Salisbury, Md., chicken company, cautioned contract growers on 900 farms in Delmarva to avoid making any unnecessary trips.

“We’re on a heightened state of alert,” said spokeswoman Tita Cherrier.

The Delaware bird flu was found on a farm that sells to the live-bird market in New York City.

Some 12,000 were destroyed and composted at the infected farm over the weekend, and farms within a two-mile radius were tested.

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