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State suspends poultry shows to prevent possible bird flu spread

Posted June 11, 2015

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— To prevent the spread of a particularly virulent strain of bird flu that has already wiped out more than 47 million birds in other states, North Carolina will suspend all public poultry competitions, shows and sales from Aug. 15 to Jan. 15.

There are no reported cases of the highly contagious H5N2 strain in North Carolina, but officials said Thursday the virus could arrive here by fall because the state is along the migratory path for water fowl.

“In short, we’re thinking ahead, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said.

The suspension of public shows and competitions, such as those at the State Fair, are designed to keep poultry and people from mixing. The virus can easily spread on shoes and clothing to other locations.

In addition to the suspension, the state is instructing commercial farmers and backyard chicken enthusiasts on biosecurity measures to protect their flocks, working with experts in neighboring states and ready to open an emergency command center amid an outbreak. They are also urging flock owners to report any signs of illness immediately.

“The lessons learned in Iowa and Minnesota is you have to get ahead of this disease and don’t get behind, so we are ramping up our response capabilities,” Troxler said.

With a poultry industry of $18 billion annually, North Carolina has much to lose from an outbreak. The state is the nation’s third-leading producer of turkeys and the fourth-leading producer of broiler chickens. There are more than 8,000 poultry farms in the state, from backyard flocks to large commercial operations.

“We do not want avian flu in North Carolina,” Troxler said. “Although it’s not considered a threat to human health, the potential damage to our poultry industry is enormous.”

State Veterinarian Doug Meckes said available vaccinations are not effective for the H5N2 strain, and the only method to stop the spread of the virus once it appears is to isolate and euthanize infected flocks.

That’s why he said prevention is key.

Meckes said even residents with a few backyard chickens shouldn’t consider themselves safe from the virus.

“I think it’s fair to say if you have poultry, you’re at risk,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture has a website with more information about avian flu.

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