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Testing for avian flu finds no new cases


Agriculture officials in several eastern states continued to monitor and test chicken farms and markets yesterday for the avian influenza virus, but to the relief of officials and farmers, no new cases were found.

The virus, which is not considered harmful to humans, sent shock waves through the $1.5 billion poultry industry in the tri-state Delmarva region this week.

About 85,000 birds on two infected Delaware farms have been destroyed, and testing continued on 60 farms nearby yesterday. Delaware agriculture officials said tests were negative on 27 other farms near the infected flocks, including a Kent County farm that supplies live markets in New York City and a Sussex County farm that supplies roaster chickens to Salisbury-based Perdue Farms Inc.

Four live-chicken markets in New Jersey were ordered closed this week for cleaning after the flu was found there, and a farm in Lancaster County, Pa., was being tested.

Also yesterday, Maryland agriculture officials said that to avoid spreading the flu to the state, they were canceling or postponing meetings and training programs on the Eastern Shore that are scheduled in the next 30 days.

Avian influenza is typically spread through bird waste that is tracked on shoes and vehicles from farm to farm.

Paul Gunther, the Queen Anne's County agricultural extension agent, said the usually quiet county is even quieter now that farmers are staying home, trying to avoid their flocks getting or transmitting the flu.

"Things have kind of come to a standstill," he said. "Looks like - I hate to use the analogy - but almost like Christmas Day on the roads."

Queen Anne's has about 38 poultry farms. It also grows more grain than any other county in the state, "and, unfortunately, the poultry industry is just about our only market," Gunther said.

Seventeen nations have banned U.S. poultry products. Maryland health officials continued to emphasize that the strain of avian influenza found in the United States is not the same strain that has sickened and killed people in Asia.

Sun staff writer Jamie Smith Hopkins contributed to this article.

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