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State orders new avian flu tests on Shore farms

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The state agriculture department ordered yesterday that poultry farms along most of the Maryland's Eastern Shore test clean for avian influenza before their chickens are moved for processing, a precautionary measure that farms on the Delmarva peninsula had already decided to take voluntarily.

The trade group Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. said pre-processing testing on the peninsula would begin next week, calling the procedure "unprecedented." The peninsula includes parts of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.

The extra protections come even though no new cases have been discovered on the peninsula since the flu was found on two farms in Delaware about two weeks ago.

The new testing is a sign that government and industry officials remain worried about the potentially devastating economic consequences of an infection.

It doesn't help that other cases keep popping up elsewhere, the latest being yesterday in a flock in southeast Texas. Other recent outbreaks have been reported in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

None of those strains of avian flu are a health risk to humans, but they can sicken and kill birds.

Since the first appearance in Delaware, roughly 30 countries have banned poultry imports from that state, the region or the entire United States.

"We're very fortunate that there's been no cases [in Maryland], but we can't be too careful," said Julie Oberg, a Maryland Department of Agriculture spokeswoman.

In Maryland through March 10, Eastern Shore poultry east of the Susquehanna River and both north and east of U.S. 50 must test negative for the flu before they can be transported.

Farms in that area and throughout Delaware have also been prohibited from cleaning out, moving or applying poultry litter through March 10.

The Delaware Department of Agriculture, which has been testing flocks daily, said results came back negative yesterday for 75 chicken houses on 33 farms - a grand total of 508 houses and 220 farms that have tested clean.

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