Pioneering a plan for avian flu outbreak

On The Farm

December 04, 2005|By TED SHELSBY

Hats off to the people in the Delmarva poultry industry.

They have developed what the state Department of Agriculture is calling the nation's first plan to control an outbreak of avian influenza and prevent its spread to humans.

A form of avian influenza - called H5N1 - has been infecting millions of poultry, migratory birds and farm animals in Southeast Asia since 2003. The virus has infected more than 100 people in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia, killing more than 50.

Although the H5NI variety has not been found in the United States, there was an outbreak of another strain of avian flu on the Eastern Shore last year. It resulted in the destruction of more than 300,000 chickens.

But that flu strain was not considered harmful to humans.

The next time, we may not be so lucky. There is concern that it could mutate into a more dangerous variety.

Poultry, health and agriculture officials in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia have taken preventative steps, teaming up to develop a plan to protect humans and an industry that means more to the economy of the Eastern Shore than Disney World does to Orlando, Fla.

The plan was aimed primarily at people who might come into contact with infected chickens, said Bill Satterfield, executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. They include the crews that would dispose of infected birds and workers who clean and disinfect chickenhouses.

The plan addresses the use of personal protective equipment to prevent human infection with any strain of the virus, preventive vaccines and antiviral drugs, infection control, decontamination measures and surveillance for illness.

Part of the plan is to make the safeguards taken consistent from state to state and with poultry companies and farmers in each state.

Avian influenza is an airborne respiratory virus that spreads easily among birds through nasal and eye secretions, as well as manure. It can spread rapidly from flock to flock, and can be carried great distances by people, vehicles, equipment and clothing.

The plan was put into place this summer, as state agencies prepared to respond to a suspected outbreak within hours, according to Sue duPont, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

She said equipment such as protective clothing and respirators has been acquired, as have antiviral pills.

"We will have these things in hand," she said. "You won't have to try to get a prescription filled on a Sunday night."

Maryland Agriculture Secretary Lewis R. Riley said the steps were taken to protect human health and the state's largest agricultural sector.

DuPont said the plan was established using guidelines developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We believe this is the first plan established in the country," said duPont, adding that the department has been sharing information with other states and poultry companies in the Delmarva region, as well as with plants in other parts of the country.

Anthony S. McCann, Maryland's secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene, called the effort a "proactive approach to prevent avian influenza in poultry and humans."

Poultry is the leading industry on the Delmarva peninsula, having an annual wholesale value of more than $1.7 billion. The industry employs about 14,000 workers, and more than 2,000 farms grow chickens.

Firewood's fair price

With a forecast of cold rain and maybe even some snow this weekend, it's a delight to toss another log on the fire to knock the chill off a room.

But there is nothing fun about being ripped off when buying firewood.

That's where Lewis R. Riley and his lieutenants at the Agriculture Department get involved.

When it comes to buying firewood, Riley's gang is out to see that consumers get what they pay for. He has issued his annual cold weather warning: If you're selling firewood in Maryland, know and obey the law.

Maryland's division of weights and measures, which regulates the sale of firewood and many other products from apples to zucchini, falls under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Department.

"It is important that any Maryland residents buying firewood understand the way it is measured and that any person selling firewood in Maryland know and follow the law so that the consumers get what they pay for," Riley said in his annual heating season message to buyers and sellers.

Maryland regulations require firewood be sold by the cord or fraction of a cord. Any other terms, such as truckload, rack or pile, are illegal.

"Most consumers do not understand the meaning of a cord, or they are unaware of the many ways wood can be stacked to look like a cord when it isn't," said Will Wotthlie, chief of weights and measures. "If the seller uses a term other than a cord or fraction of a cord, consumers should be suspicious."

A cord is the amount of wood stacked and stowed in a well-compacted manner in a space of 128 cubic feet, typically in a stack measuring 4 feet wide by 8 feet long by 4 feet high.

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