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AI contained in Texas, not linked to Asian strain

Article

Gonzales, Texas-While the situation appears to be under control, state and federal authorities in Texas continue to monitor the highly infectious strain of avian influenza (AI) detected on a Texas poultry farm in February, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Gonzales, Texas-While the situation appears to be under control, state and federal authorities in Texas continue to monitor the highly infectious strain of avian influenza (AI) detected on a Texas poultry farm in February, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Surveillance and testing of poultry farms in a 10-mile radius of the infected flock have not been infected with the bird flu, reports the USDA. AI is a highly infectious respiratory disease of poultry that is transmissible bird-to-bird via air or feces.

However, Texas animal health officials have initiated a targeted disease surveillance plan for poultry flocks surrounding the affected Gonzales County to ensure that AI is eradicated from the state.

"In order to efficiently manage the disease eradication efforts, the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) and U.S. Department of Agriculture have established a unified incident command post in Gonzales, and plans are under way to evaluate the flocks within the area by employing a series of tests," says Dr. Max Coats, deputy director for animal health programs for TAHC.

The testing will focus on commercial and noncommercial poultry and birds within a 30-mile radius of the infected farm.

While the signs point to containment of the outbreak, state officials says the strain could still be a "moving target." The virus can survive for weeks outside the host if the conditions are suitable. To date, what is not known is the reservoir for the virus, although investigators point to a wild avian species or habitat.

State officials say the strain traced to a farm 50 miles outside of San Antonio is not the same strain as the one that is linked to the deaths of 22 people in Asia.

No global link

As a result of the outbreak in Texas, however, several Asian nations, as well as Russia and the European Union, have banned all U.S. poultry exports, because the Texas case is a highly pathogenic form of avian influenza (H5N2) to birds.

To date, officials say the latest H5N2 strain is not thought to be hazardous to humans nor has it been shown to compromise food safety.

The H5N2 strain traced to Texas is unique because it hasn't resulted in as many bird deaths as past outbreaks, USDAUndersecretary Bill Hawks reports. The last U.S. outbreak of a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu was in 1984. More than 17 million birds were killed; to date, the 2004 U.S. outbreak has resulted in nearly 7,000 bird deaths.

The latest outbreak in Texas occurred several days after a Gonzales poultry producer visited a Houston live bird market. The first bird death on the Gonzales farm was on Feb. 15. AI was confirmed Feb. 19 in several birds from the flock.

On the other side of the globe, in the midst of an outbreak that has killed 22 humans and resulted in the slaughter of more than 100 million chickens, ducks and other poultry in Asian nations, Chinese and officials from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations met to iron out a joint strategy for fighting AI. The plans involve creation of an Asian epidemic warning network and tighter global collaboration.

Asian repercussions

Furthermore, Asian officials are planning to develop a public health network and another effort linking veterinary officials as part of an "early warning system for epidemic recognition and control," officials say.

The joint meeting took place one day after officials from Japan confirmed an outbreak there that killed hundreds of thousands of chickens was caused by the same strain that killed people in Vietnam and Thailand.

No new reports of AI had been reported in other Asian nations since Feb. 26. Vietnam hopes to declare an end to the crisis by late March, the government says.

Recovery from Asia's virulent bird flu could cost at least $500 million, animal health experts say.

"To rehabilitate such a damaged sector, enormous amounts of money are required," says Samuel Jutzi, head of animal health at the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Officials anticipate it will be at least a year before Asia is free of the virus.

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