Poultry Insiders Address Bird Flu Concerns

Could the East Texas area soon become infected with the Avian Flu? It's a concern some people have.

Health experts are warning the Avian, or Bird Flu could one day affect millions of people worldwide. In fact, President Bush recently met with flu vaccine manufacturers to discuss the best way to ward off a possible world-wide pandemic.

Currently, the virus van not be passed from one person to another. But there is a fear that the virus could mutate... allowing it to spread between humans.

Here in East Texas, the poultry industry has a major presence, which has raised the question, are we more susceptible to the Bird Flu here if an outbreak were to occur?

Poultry industry insiders know that flocks in the U.S. are always under the threat of contracting Avian Flu. But, experts are quick to point out that commercially grown chickens raised on farms like we see here in East Texas aren't threatened as much as those grown by private individuals in much smaller quantities.

"They'll grow them and they'll take them down to a quote, live market in Houston. A lot of Asians and a lot of people like to buy the live birds and bring them home and process them themselves. And that's where the problem comes in because those birds aren't routinely monitored." says Dr. Tim Cherry, the Director of Poultry Science at SFA.

Live markets aren't as common here in the U.S. as they are in countries where outbreaks have already occurred. Here, routine testing of breeder flocks on the farms and broilers at processing plants help the industry keep track of any sickness.

In a statement issued to the East Texas news, Pilgrim's Pride, one of the industry's major corporations, says:

"Pilgrim's Pride consistently practices stringent biosecurity measures, conducts regular testing, and takes necessary precautions aimed at keeping Avian Influenza out of our flocks and insuring the health and well being of our employees."

Dr. Cherry says the industry hasn't developed any vaccines to give the birds, simply because of the nature of the influenza virus.

"So as opposed to try and vaccinate the birds, they just blood test and then eliminate any positive flocks. And they do that because it's an influenza virus, and it has such an ability to mutate."

Pilgrim's Pride is also quick to point out that according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Avian Influenza poses no threat to food safety, and there is no evidence that any human case of Avian Flu has ever been acquired by eating poultry products.

Right now, the only treatment for influenza is Tamaflu.

Health Officials we've spoken with say that right now, the oral treatment isn't hard to come by. Whether or not how available it would be if a major flu outbreak should occur would depend on how many people were to be infected.