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"Virual Chickens" scenario not so far-fetched?

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Chicken Virus May Have Surfaced in Texas  



Tuesday, April 8, 2003; 10:47 AM

By Randy Fabi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A highly contagious poultry disease that has forced health officials to kill more than 3 million chickens in the U.S. Southwest may have surfaced in Texas, state government officials said on Tuesday.

The Texas Animal Health Commission said a flock of noncommercial chickens in El Paso was suspected of having Exotic Newcastle Disease (END). Officials said they were awaiting laboratory confirmation, which should be completed by Friday.

If confirmed, Texas would be the fourth state infected since the outbreak started in October in Southern California. Arizona and Nevada were also affected.

The virus, which is harmless to humans and does not affect the safety of poultry meat or eggs, is fatal to fowl. Symptoms include respiratory problems.

"An END outbreak creates an extremely serious situation for bird owners in Texas," said Bob Hillman, the commission's executive director.

Industry officials stressed that the suspected Texas case was in a backyard flock, not a commercial farm.

"This is a small noncommercial hobby flock near the Mexican border," said Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council. "No commercial flocks have been affected and biosecurity is at a very high level in Texas and other states."

Texas is the No. 6 U.S. poultry-producing state, producing about 500 million birds annually.

The suspected case comes as animal health officials have become more optimistic that the virus was under control in California, Arizona and Nevada.

Officials were expected to lift a federal quarantine in Arizona and Nevada within a few weeks, a spokesman for the state and federal END task force said on Monday.

California, the state hardest hit by the disease, has seen a significant drop in the number of new cases. But there has been no determination about when the ban in California may be lifted.

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