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'Highly Pathogenic' Avian Flu Found on Texas Chicken Farm

Health officials in Texas have identified a strain of bird flu at a chicken farm, but they say there is little threat to humans. The discovery does pose a significant threat to the area's multi-million-dollar poultry industry. The U.S. Agriculture Department, or USDA, says chickens tested on a south Texas farm last week were found to have what was called "a highly pathogenic strain" of bird flu that could kill up to 30 percent of a flock. When the sick chickens were first tested, USDA investigators thought they might be infected with a milder strain of the bird influenza that would affect only about 10 percent of a flock.

But as a result of the new finding, officials destroyed the entire flock of more than 6,000 chickens at the farm. They also investigated two live-poultry markets in Houston where some birds from the farm had been sent. State officials killed 20 ducks at one of those locations.

The USDA says the strain of bird flu identified through DNA testing is not the same as the one that killed more than 20 people in Asia and that it poses little threat to humans. Still, it is remotely possible for humans to catch the disease and the Centers for Disease Control is keeping a close watch on the situation. Experts say that the disease cannot be passed to humans who consume the meat of an infected chicken, but that there could be some risk to humans who are exposed to the sick birds at a farm or in a market.

The greatest threat from this outbreak will be for the poultry industry in south Texas and elsewhere. If authorities order the destruction of large numbers of chickens throughout the area where the sick birds were found, many chicken production facilities could face financial crisis.

The farm in Gonzales county, about 100 kilometers east of San Antonio, where the sick chickens were found, has been placed under quarantine and officials are checking for the disease at farms in a 16-kilometer radius around the site. The biggest foreign buyer of U.S. chickens, Russia, has placed a temporary ban on imports of chicken from Texas.

Other, milder strains of bird flu have shown up in recent weeks on the eastern coast of the United States, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Officials slaughtered more than 70,000 birds there to contain the outbreak. Several nations, including China, Japan and South Korea barred chicken imports from the United States as a result of that outbreak.