From: Sarah Mahoney, Reuters
Published March 24, 2006 12:00 AM

Maine Steps up Bird Flu Planning, Monitoring

DURHAM, Maine — Maine, the closest U.S. state to migration routes for birds coming from Europe, will soon test ducks, geese, loons and other birds for avian flu as the United States steps up preparations for the possible spread of the disease to North America.

Maine is modeling its plan after Alaska, where many expect the first U.S. case of bird flu to be detected, Mark Stadler, director of the wildlife division of Maine's department of inland fisheries and wildlife, told Reuters in an interview.

Bird flu, already spreading across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, is expected to jump across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas within a year, the United Nations said this month.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release as much as $50,000 to Maine to be to take blood samples from migrating waterfowl, said Stadler. Hunters will also be asked to help obtain blood samples when bird-hunting season begins in late September.

Because of its extensive waterways, Maine is already actively banding and sampling its migratory bird population.

With 7,005 miles of coastal shoreline -- including 2,479 miles of island shoreline -- Maine is a magnet for coastal birds, while its extensive inland waterways are rich in fresh-water species.

A senior U.N. official said this month that the leap across the Atlantic Ocean would take place in two stages, carried in the next few months by wild birds flying from West Africa to the Arctic region, and then brought south to North and South America six months later.

The virus could show up in Maine as soon as the late summer, says Donald Hoenig, the state veterinarian.

"The birds will fly north to Canada for the summer, where they could potentially intermix with African and European birds," he said.

Officials fear that an infection among wild birds could spread to the state's poultry industry.

With four million domestic birds, Maine is the nation's leading producer of brown eggs, Hoenig said. In 2004, Maine's brown eggs generated $61 million in sales.

State officials have also been active in preparing contingency plans if the virus spreads to humans.

The H5N1 bird flu virus has led to the deaths of millions of birds in more than 30 countries. It has spread to over a dozen new countries in the past month and infected 175 people since 2003, killing around 100 of them.

Source: Reuters

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