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Avian flu spreads to more Lancaster County poultry farms

Scientists use “control zone” seeking to stop spread

  • Brett Sholtis
 In this Oct. 21, 2015, file photo, cage-free chickens walk in a fenced pasture at an organic farm near Waukon, Iowa.

 Charlie Neibergall / AP Photo

In this Oct. 21, 2015, file photo, cage-free chickens walk in a fenced pasture at an organic farm near Waukon, Iowa.

(Harrisburg) —  Chickens at two more farms in Lancaster County have tested positive for the highly pathogenic avian influenza, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. 

That brings the tally to three farms in Pennsylvania — two in East Donegal Township, as well as one more nearby, said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.

Redding declined to name the farms, saying that the department wants to keep people out of the so-called “control zone,” a 10 kilometer area where state and federal scientists and other experts are working to stop further virus spread. LNP reported that Kreider Farms is the source of one outbreak. 

Redding noted that while the virus poses no risk to consumers, it devastates poultry flocks — leaving farmers in the region on edge.

“They want to know, as an example, if the trucks and service and supply for their particular operations coming out of the control zone, that those feed companies and supply companies have taken the appropriate protocols,” Redding said. 

Lancaster County alone has 1,677 poultry operations, including 162 within the control zone, Redding said. Statewide, poultry farming is a $7.1 billion industry that employs about 26,000 people. 

Penn State assistant animal science professor Gino Lorenzoni has been working with farmers in the control zone. He said he’s helping educate people on how to prevent them from spreading the virus.

“It’s a very problematic virus,” Lorenzoni said. “It spreads very easily from flock to flock, so people can potentially bring the virus from one farm to the others.”

Another part of the problem is that migratory birds spread the virus through their feces. Unlike chickens and other poultry, those birds sometimes don’t get ill, so they can transmit the influenza for hundreds of miles. 

The risk for humans is “minimal,” Lorenzoni said. People handling eggs and chicken from a grocery store face no risk of contracting the virus. 

There have been no cases of human infection in North America, Lorenzoni added, though historically there have been some cases in other parts of the world among people who were closely handling poultry. Those working on farms in the control zone wear protective equipment to limit their exposure. 

In addition to education, Lorenzoni has helped euthanize 3.4 million birds at those farms. 

“Even if there is one confirmed positive case within a farm of many thousand birds, the flock has to be depopulated — the entire flock.”

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