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Positive bird flu tests on 2 Lake Erie swans
By KEVIN WALKER
Michigan Correspondent

MONROE COUNTY, Mich. — Alarms rang out following two positive tests for the bird flu on wild mute swans that were examined at the Moulee state game area along the shores of Lake Erie earlier this month.

As a result last week, the South Korean government announced it was banning imports of poultry from Michigan temporarily, pending the outcome of tests to confirm that the type of bird flu detected in the swans is not dangerous.

Angela Harless, a USDA spokeswoman, said the department was working to deal with the situation. She said test results should be available by the end of August.

Although the probable strain of flu, known as low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI), does not pose a threat to humans, the concern is that it could mutate into a more dangerous form and be lethal to birds - possibly to people.

“It has the capability to mutate to other strains of avian influenza,” said George House, executive director of Michigan Allied Poultry Industries. “They can mutate to strains that can kill lots of birds, but may not be harmful to people.”

“We know it’s not related to the one overseas,” Harless said, referring to the dangerous form of bird flu known as Asian H5N1.

According to the USDA, high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI), which includes Asian H5N1, does pose a threat to people and can be spread from birds to humans as a result of extensive direct contact with infected birds.

Concerns about public health relate to the potential for the virus to mutate into a form that could spread from person to person, not just from birds to humans.

“To say that this could or will happen is a real stretch,” House said. Incidents of LPAI are common in domestic poultry flocks.

In this instance, the infected swans did not become ill, which means it’s unlikely they have a dangerous strain of flu.

Nevertheless, House notified all poultry farmers in Michigan after being informed of the test results. House said he doesn’t know of any commercial poultry production in or near Monroe County, Mich. where the infected swans were found.

There is also no evidence that HPAI currently exists in the United States, based on extensive testing of U.S. poultry flocks.

Historically, there have been three HPAI outbreaks in poultry in this country – in 1924, 1983 and 2004. No significant human illness resulted from these outbreaks.

The 1924 HPAI outbreak was detected and eradicated in East Coast live bird markets.

The 1983 outbreak resulted in the destruction of 17 million chickens, turkeys and guinea fowl in the northeastern United States.

In 2004, the USDA confirmed an outbreak in chickens in the southern United States. The disease was quickly eradicated. The success of the effort was attributed to the close coordination between USDA, state, local and industry leaders.

Bird flu viruses can infect chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese and guinea fowl as well as a wide variety of other birds, including migratory waterfowl.

For more information about bird flu, visit www.usda.gov/birdflu

This farm news was published in the August 23, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

8/23/2006