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NC Braces for Bird Flu as Neighboring States See Cases

Other states in the Southeast are seeing cases of avian influenza, prompting the North Carolina agricultural community to remain vigilant. (IAEA Imagebank/flickr.com)
Other states in the Southeast are seeing cases of avian influenza, prompting the North Carolina agricultural community to remain vigilant. (IAEA Imagebank/flickr.com)
March 30, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. — Another case of bird flu has been confirmed in the Southeast this week - this time in Georgia. It follows a reported case in Tennessee earlier this month.

Avian influenza is a virus that occurs naturally in wild birds, but can infect domestic poultry. There have been some rare cases of human infections in the past, but according to Michael Martin, associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University, there's no evidence of that threat with the current strain.

"From the standpoint of a consumer, I think 'aware' is really kind of where you want to be,” Martin said. "This virus has not shown us any evidence whatsoever that it can infect people. Influenza viruses can change over time, and that's part of the reason why these areas are so vigilant in monitoring this disease."

Experts say the best way to prevent infection in humans is to avoid sources of exposure. People who raise chickens are asked to limit their contact with migratory birds.

Martin said he doesn't expect these cases to approach the level of the outbreak in 2015, because advancements have been made to identify the infected flocks and quickly stop the spread of the illness.

Current cases of bird flu in Tennessee and Georgia are linked to the Mississippi flyway migratory pattern of wild birds, but much of North Carolina is located in the Atlantic flyway.

Nevertheless, Martin said, with poultry production such a key industry, the state will remain vigilant.

"We need to be constantly aware that this disease is out there, and have a level of preparedness that would help us respond to when this disease pops up,” he said.

Efforts to limit the spread of avian flu are funded in part by discretionary spending by the U.S. Department of Agriculture - an agency which President Trump has proposed cutting by almost $5 billion.

Stephanie Carson/Cynthia Howard, Public News Service - NC