- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

The Maryland Department of Agriculture yesterday ordered the slaughter of nearly 330,000 birds after discovering cases of avian influenza among a flock of chickens at a Worcester County commercial poultry farm.

The department also conducted a flurry of tests on chickens at more than 70 poultry farms on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to determine whether the virus had spread.

MDA officials yesterday tested flocks in poultry houses within a six-mile radius of the infected farm, located near Pocomoke City. On Saturday, the department had completed tests within a two-mile radius. Officials also are testing four satellite farms that have partnerships with the infected farm.

The farm where the avian flu was discovered has 118,000 6-month-old broiler chickens. The MDA ordered the slaughter of those chickens as well as 210,000 at a nearby farm that shares workers and equipment.

A spreading of the flu virus could threaten the region’s poultry industry, the MDA said, because most poultry farms operate on thin margins and cannot afford to slaughter entire flocks at a time.

“It is discouraging, and it’s surprising to us,” Maryland Agriculture Secretary Lewis Riley said. “We’re ready, and we’re prepared to address it and to handle it.”

MDA officials discovered the infected flock after conducting tests in response to two positive cases of avian influenza in Delaware last month. Officials said there is no indication of a connection between the Delaware and Maryland cases, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to begin investigating that possibility today.

To perform the tests, MDA inspectors take blood samples and remove fluid from the trachea of dead birds. For the eight farms located within a two-mile radius, inspectors performed 20 blood tests and 20 trachea swabs from birds in each house. For houses further out, 10 of each test was required.

The flu strain found on the Eastern Shore, known as H7, does not typically infect humans. There have been no reports of humans falling ill, and there were no cases of human illness related to the virus in Delaware. Officials stressed that the area’s food supply is not threatened, and that only people who have come in close contact with the flock are at risk. The infected farm was placed under quarantine Saturday.

“Poultry is good to eat,” said MDA spokeswoman Sue du-Pont. “People should not be concerned for their health.”

However, the Netherlands last year reported outbreaks of H7 in poultry on several farms, and infections later were reported among pigs and humans. Maryland officials said the H7 strain found Saturday is likely a more mild subtype of the virus.

In the Netherlands case, 83 persons — mostly poultry workers — were infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of the 83, one died from breathing problems related to the virus.

Most infections in the Nether-lands case were a result of direct contact with infected poultry, but Dutch authorities reported three possible instances of transmission from poultry workers to family members.

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