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Bird Flu Woes: Flying This Way?

Experts discuss the potential impact of bird flu that could arrive in the U.S. via wild birds.

Impact on U.S. Poultry

In Asia, the H5N1 virus has led to the death or destruction of an estimated 150 million chickens and ducks and has cost more than $10 billion. You might think the U.S. poultry industry would be in a panic. It's not, says Mike Lacy, PhD, head of the poultry science department at the University of Georgia.

"The industry is taking the perceived threat very, very seriously," Lacy tells WebMD. "But the U.S. poultry industry is protected because of the way it is organized. The best word for it is sophistication. Our birds are protected from migratory fowl. It is very unlikely that the Asian bird flu virus is going to get established in U.S. poultry flocks."

Bird flu spreads in Asia because vast numbers of chickens and ducks are raised in backyard farms. The U.S. poultry industry, however, is a bird of a different feather. The nation's gigantic chicken factories are very well contained.

That doesn't mean bird flu never happens here. It does. It last happened in 2004 in Texas -- with an H5N2 virus different from the Asian H5N1 strain.

"They swooped down, tested the infected flock, destroyed the infected and exposed birds, tested birds around the area, and kept the area quarantined," Lacy says. "That outbreak was stomped out in just a matter of a few weeks."

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