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US braces itself for bird flu

Avian influenza has yet to strike the US, but in one of the nation's leading poultry producing regions, preparations are being made.

At a bird flu briefing this week, Georgia state veterinarian, Stan Crane, told a room full of poultry experts that Georgia's agricultural response team, which would be in charge of quarantines in an outbreak, is rethinking its method of disposing of infected carcasses, with incineration being preferred to mass burial.
Federal officials and state agricultural leaders had called the meeting to warn chicken farmers in Georgia, the nation's leading poultry producing state, to stay vigilant despite even though the H5N1 virus has not yet been spotted in the US.
"We must always keep our guard up, always look for it," said David Swayne, the director of the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory.
In the US, which produces more than 35 billion pounds of poultry a year, many producers have taken extreme precautions, outfitting visitors with biohazard suits and disinfecting shoes and tires entering the vicinity of each chicken coop.
Although the deadly virus has not infected a human in the US, officials have detected a low-grade strain of the virus in wild birds in Pennsylvania and elsewhere that poses no threat to people. To thwart the spread of the virus, federal authorities have restricted poultry imports from high-risk countries, stepped up efforts to test wild birds and have urged each state to develop its own emergency response plan in case the disease strikes.
"We're planning for the worst," she said, "and hoping for the best."
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