051124 Government & Industry Keeping Bird Flu Out

November 5, 2005

U.S. consumers shouldn't be particularly worried about the latest outbreaks of bird flu because the government and poultry industry are taking precautions to keep the virus out of the country.

That's the message LSU Agricultural Center poultry specialist Theresia Lavergne, who has been busy conducting meetings for members of the industry want to spread.

Outbreaks of bird flu in Asia and Europe have caused widespread media attention in the United States.

However, the latest strain of the virus, H5N1, has not been found here. Also, there has not been a highly pathogenic strain of bird flu in the United States for more than 20 years, and that strain was eliminated, Lavergne said.

"To the countries who do have this, it is a big issue to them," said Lavergne, an associate professor in LSU's Department of Animal Sciences. "To the U.S., it's a big issue because you want to keep it out."

Bird flu viruses do not usually affect humans, although there have been rare cases, mostly in the elderly and children, Lavergne said.

She urged people to practice good hygiene when handling poultry and to properly cook it.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, avian influenza, or bird flu, is transmitted from bird to bird, through direct contact with secretions, especially feces, from infected birds; or contact with contaminated feed, water, equipment and clothing.

During an outbreak among domesticated chickens, ducks and turkeys, there is a possible risk to people who have had contact with infected birds or surfaces that have been contaminated, according to a news release from the LSU Agricultural Center.

Although the disease has not been detected in Louisiana, Lavergne said poultry growers should monitor their flocks for bird flu.

An outbreak of the disease could prove disastrous to poultry growers. If an outbreak occurred, all birds in the infected flocks would have to be slaughtered, she said.

It would also be necessary to dispose of carcasses and all animal products, and clean and disinfect the area, Lavergne said.

"On top of that, should an outbreak occur, producers will have to allow at least 21 days to pass before restocking," she said.

Joe Christiana Jr. of Joe Christiana Food Distributors said he is counting on the federal government to prevent an outbreak.

"It could cause my business to take a drastic downfall," he said.

The business, in operation in Baton Rouge for 50 years, receives fresh beef, pork and poultry and distributes it to retailers nearby.

"What we've learned has been through the media and by questions we've asked to a USDA inspector," Christiana said.

"There's always going to be a threat there," he said. "You just hope everybody does a good enough job to control it."

Christiana said his business operates under federal regulations aimed at eliminating or controlling E. coli bacteria, salmonella and staphylococcus.

Lavergne said those same precautions are the best protection for people against bird flu.

Lavergne said the poultry industry in the United States takes precautions to prevent outbreaks of diseases, called bio-security practices.

Those measures include keeping live poultry in enclosed areas to prevent contact with wild birds, restricting traffic within poultry farms and using sanitation practices when handling meat or eggs.

The industry also monitors its product for evidence of diseases, Lavergne said.

Lynne Luna, a veterinarian with the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said the state is opening a lab in north Louisiana to monitor birds.

The department recently tested birds at the State Fair of Louisiana in Shreveport, she said, and birds participating in cockfighting.

Commercial companies are doing their own monitoring as well, testing birds going to slaughter and their breeder flocks, Luna said.

The results in six parishes all came back negative for the virus, Luna said.

The experts say people should not be concerned about eating poultry, because properly cooking meat and eggs will kill the virus.

But because waterfowl can carry the disease, Lavergne had some tips for hunters, including washing hands before and after handling wild birds.

Waterfowl, including ducks and geese, aren't affected by the virus, but do carry it and can transfer it to other birds, she said.

She said hunters should wear disposable gloves to gather the birds and while cleaning them.

Lavergne also encourages people to wash their clothes and shoes after coming in contact with poultry.

"People need to understand they can carry any kind of poultry disease," she said.

"Practice good hygiene just as you would to protect against the human flu," Lavergne said.

According to The Associated Press, at least 62 people have died of bird flu in Asia since 2003. Most of the deaths have been linked to close contact with infected birds.



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