By Hannah Northey
HARRISONBURG — State officials hope to clip the wings of a possible avian flu outbreak in the Valley by canceling public events and sales involving live poultry, and prohibiting the application of poultry litter in 17 counties in Western Virginia until the end of the month.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is calling for the measures in response to Friday’s discovery of avian flu antibodies in a flock of 54,000 turkeys on an unidentified Shenandoah County farm. The antibodies were found in the birds, located on a farm west of Mount Jackson, during a "preslaughter" test.
Elaine Lidholm, director of communication for VDAC, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, is still trying to isolate the virus, and may identify what’s causing the antibodies today.
"The state doesn’t wait for confirmatory results because time is of the essence," Lidholm said.
Birds within a 6-mile radius of the farm have tested negative for the antibodies so far, said Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation.
But Lidholm said the extra precautions are necessary because the detected antibodies match characteristics of H5, a low pathogenic strain of avian influenza that has the ability to mutate into a highly pathogenic form.
The scare has widespread implications in Rockingham County, which remains one of the top poultry producers in the nation, according to Bauhan.
Neighboring West Virginia also has responded by suspending all poultry shows and sales for the next 30 days, according to The Associated Press.
Poultry farms are on "code red" security alerts, Lidholm said, and have stepped up surveillance, monitoring and biosecurity measures.
She said the farm where the virus was detected, which could not be identified due to security concerns, is under quarantine and that only workers can enter or leave the premises.
Bauhan said the flock owner is working with Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, USDA, VDAC and Shenandoah County officials to exterminate the birds properly and compost the carcasses. The composting process, which Bauhan said will produce a substance free of the virus, can be applied to the land.
Lidholm said officials will exterminate the birds this evening because they are concerned about people working in daytime temperatures forecast to reach the mid-90s.
"Normally, we would’ve put that flock down already," she said.
The flock owner and state officials are following standards established by the Virginia Poultry Disease Task Force, a group that formed after bird flu hit the Valley in April 2002, Bauhan said.
During that outbreak, the virus cost Virginia farmers $130 million on nearly 200 farms and the death of 4.7 million birds.
Bird Flu Blues
Lidholm said the restrictions on poultry shows and sales, which could be extended if necessary, will affect flea markets, 4-H competitions, commercial sales and country fairs that run from July to August.
But poultry-litter haulers may be hit even harder.
State Veterinarian Richard Wilkes ordered that no poultry litter, manure or bedding removed from poultry houses be applied to land at any location or moved from the farm of origin in 17 counties until July 30. Affected counties include Rockingham, Shenandoah, Page and Augusta, according to a press release.
Officials hope the restrictions will limit the spread of the virus, which can spread through infected birds’ saliva, nasal secretions and feces, which other birds then come in contact with, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
But Mark Deavers of Broadway, manager of Deavers Lime and Litter, said it’s unfair to restrict poultry-litter application and not the birds being sent to the processing plants.
"If the birds are good enough to go to market, the manure is good enough to spread," Deavers said.
Deavers, who operates four trucks that move 1,000 pounds of poultry litter a month along Interstate 81 from Winchester to Roanoke, said he’ll have to house the litter at storage sheds on the farms where it is produced until the end of July.
He said he’ll have to pay $6 for every ton he stores in the sheds, in addition to losing $20,000 a month while his trucks are idled.
"The trucks will have to sit and I’ll have to see if I can make the payments," he said. "I’ll just have to dig it all back out in a month and put it back on the trucks."
But Bauhan said the measures are necessary to prevent an outbreak and that restrictions on the movement of litter could be lifted once tests show the virus isn’t spreading.
"In the early days, we need to do whatever we can to make sure this doesn’t turn into a widespread outbreak," he said.
For More Information
To find out more about safety on the farm, visit www.vapoultry.com.
Contact Hannah Northey at 574-6274 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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