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Local Poultry Health Experts On Front Line To Prevent Bird Flu

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The avian flu has killed 79 people in Asia. Researchers say there are serious health and economic concerns if it ever does cross our nation's borders.

Learn More About Avian Flu

There have been a few cases of human to human transmission. The fear is the virus could mutate and trigger a global avian flu pandemic. The key to stopping the disease is understanding how it is spread.

Avian influenza can invade the United States in two ways. One way is wild migratory birds could carry it from other parts of the world, but Dr. Michael Martin, with the N.C. State School of Veterinary Medicine, is more concerned about the second means of invasion -- through humans.

"Things where people may be moving birds, may be moving equipment, have contaminated items, clothing, that type of thing," he said.

Martin and Dr. Barrett Slenning study how disease is spread among commercial flocks. They hope their research and teaching may help protect North Carolina poultry and people from the same crisis now affecting Asia, parts of Europe and Turkey. Striking the right balance of awareness is a challenge.

"The issue is we want people to be concerned. We want people to be aware. We don't want them to be frightened or panicked," Slenning said.

That's because the chance of the H5N1 Bird Flu strain becoming a human pandemic is highly unlikely.

"I mean we're in low single digit probability, but it's of huge potential magnitude," Barrett said.

Besides the health concern, it's an economic threat. Officials believe the presence of the virus in the United States could impact the poultry industry. It is unlikely infected birds would ever make it to market, but there's no real health concern if they do.

"There's been no evidence at this point of a human infection associated with the consumption of a poultry product," Martin said.

There is a great deal of surveillance taking place both on the state and the federal level. They are regularly testing poultry flocks for the virus.


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