From: David Blackburn, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.
Published October 12, 2005 12:00 AM

Chicken Growers Hope Measures Will Prevent Flu Breakout

President Bush heightened awareness of avian influenza -- or the bird flu -- last week when he compared the potential devastation on an outbreak to that of the 1918 flu that killed an estimated 50 million people.

But area chicken growers and a company that buys from them say they aren't yet worried about an American outbreak of the virus.

Recent reports of human illnesses in Asia with what was once a bird-only disease has, however, has led to a greater awareness and diligence about bio-security measures.

"There's a lot to lose, not only for the company, but also the growers," said Nancy Butler of Calhoun, a contract producer for Perdue Farms, on Tuesday.

Perdue Farms -- which has a plant in Cromwell in Ohio County -- always has strict measures for the grow houses, corporate spokeswoman Julie DeYoung said.

Access is limited to grow houses, which have screens to keep out other birds, she said.

Disinfection of the houses is routine, and regional veterinarians and company flock supervisors keep a close eye on the birds, she said.

"We routinely test flocks for (bird flu) whenever there is a health issue even if we don't suspect that it is an issue," DeYoung said in a phone interview from the Salisbury, Md., corporate headquarters.

"We take measures constantly," said Butler, a Perdue producer for nine years.

Pans of water containing disinfectant are kept outside the doors to the two, 40-by-500-foot houses that hold Butler's 40,000 chickens. Anyone going in or coming out dips their boots in it, she said.

"That way we're not tracking in diseases," which is a concern with the local blackbird population, she said.

Houses are decaked -- machine removal of bird droppings between flocks -- and maintenance workers follow growers' rules around the houses, Butler said.

Growers check to see if any animals, especially birds, are raised at the homes of their children's friends, she said. And equipment shared between growers is carefully cleaned, she added.

Butler checks the chickens' water consumption each day. A decline is an early indicator of possible sickness, she said.

If a veterinarian is summoned, they come promptly, she said.

"The quicker you get a handle on these things, the better," Butler said.

Perdue not only warns State Fair-going growers about visiting the poultry area, but also notifies them of scares in other states, Butler said.

That way, they know to be alert when traveling to, or having visitors from, those states, she said.

There are no confirmed cases of human bird flu or its vaccine-resistant Asian strain in the United States, said Mark Sears, environmental services director with the Green River District Health Department.

Transmission has been bird-to-bird or bird-to-human, Sears said.

The big concern "public health-wise is if the bird flu virus mutates and could be transferred person to person," he said.

In Asia, entire flocks are killed to slow the outbreak, Sears said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending quarantining and culling suspected ill birds, he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is making plans with the CDC and other federal agencies in case of an outbreak, according to the APHIS Web site.

"Certainly, we'd participate with those to the extent our flocks are affected," DeYoung said.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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