Avian flu detected again in Hopkins County
TAHC will have to retest flocks in area

From Staff Reports

June 23, 2004 -- Officials were close to declaring victory over avian influenza in Hopkins County until laboratory tests Tuesday confirmed that a flock of 14 birds was infected with H7N3, the same strain of the virus that led to the euthanization and burial of 48,000 commercial breeding chickens in the county in May.

The small flock, located about 41�2 miles from the commercial operations, was immediately euthanized and incinerated.

Veterinarians with Texas Animal Health Commission, the state's livestock and poultry health regulatory agency, now may need to revise the AI disease surveillance plan, and additional testing of flocks in the area will be necessary to ensure disease eradication and satisfy the requirements of interstate and international trading partners.

"This turn of events is disappointing to us and the area's poultry owners, but it demonstrates why widespread, repeated flock testing is necessary during an AI outbreak," Dr. Max Coats, deputy director for Animal Health Programs for the TAHC, said in a press release issued Wednesday morning. "This infected noncommercial flock was one of more than 315 in a 300-square mile area that tested negative a little more than two weeks ago. Our on-site team had nearly completed the second round of testing the flocks when the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, reported the positive test results on the small 14-bird flock that had 10 chickens and four ducks."

Dr. Coats said a team composed of TAHC and U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors and two veterinarians has been stationed in Sulphur Springs since mid-May after two commercial breeding flocks nearby tested positive for the H7N3 strain of AI on routine blood tests. The chickens, which did not exhibit signs of disease, were "depopulated" and buried, to prevent potential disease exposure to other birds.

The joint state and federal team has worked seven days a week, first to canvass the area and issue "hold orders" so birds would not be moved from the immediate area until all testing was completed. The team then collected swabs and blood samples from birds for laboratory sampling, Dr. Coats explained. Tests are run at the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratories in College Station, Gonzales or Center, and samples with inconclusive or positive results are forwarded to the NVSL for confirmation testing.

"We will need to retest some of the area's flocks again, in order to assure our trading partners that all traces of this viral bird disease have been detected and eradicated," Dr. Coats said. "Additionally, we will have to change our testing area, as the testing protocol calls for disease surveillance within a 10-mile radius of an infected flock -- whether it is a commercial or noncommercial operation.

"I want to express my appreciation to the area's poultry owners for their outstanding cooperation during this trying time," he said. "If our team continues to work seven days a week, and the weather continues to be favorable, we may be able to complete the disease surveillance by the end of July, provided we do not encounter additional infection."

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