2004Edition>News Center>World

Flu fears force killing of US birds
Updated: 2004-02-08 10:51

A flock of 12,000 chickens in Delaware, U.S. was destroyed on Saturday in a bid to prevent the spread of avian flu, and state agriculture officials hastened to say the virus differs from the one that has killed people in Asia.

The chickens were slaughtered on a farm in southern Kent County, Delaware, at 11:30 a.m. (1630 GMT) after two birds tested positive for the virulent H7 virus on Friday, Delaware agriculture secretary Michael Scuse said.

The virus is different from the H5N1 virus in Asia, Scuse said. That strain has forced the slaughter of millions of birds there and killed 18 people in Thailand and Viet Nam who had come into direct contact with them.

"The virus that is in Asia is a mutation of H5," Scuse said. He said the H7 strain found in Delaware is fatal to poultry but does not transmit to humans.

Scuse said he was "fairly confident" the virus had not spread. As a safeguard, however, other flocks within a two-mile radius of the infected farm would be tested, and the outcome of that process would probably be known by Tuesday, he said.

If the virus is found in any of the other flocks, the testing area would be extended to five miles, he said.

The slain flock's carcasses will be composted at the farm, which has been quarantined, he said.

South Korea, which is battling a deadly outbreak of the virus, reacted swiftly to reports of the discovery in Delaware, immediately halting imports of U.S. poultry.

Poultry is a multibillion-dollar industry in the Delmarva Peninsula where the infected farm is located, and is the mainstay of the local economy. The Delmarva region, which lies between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, consists of parts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

The farmer did not supply chickens to Purdue or any other commercial poultry company, said Anne Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the Delaware Agriculture Department.

The Delaware case would not be the first time the H5 strain, or the so-called "low-pathogenic" virus, has hit the poultry sector in the United States, he said.

An outbreak of a related strain of bird flu in the northeastern United States in 1983 and 1984 forced more than 17 million birds to be destroyed, the USDA said. That incident also caused retail egg prices to soar by more than 30 per cent.

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