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UMaine Today Magazine


Mark Hutchinson
Mark Hutchinson

Title: Associate Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Research focus: Commercial agriculture and home horticulture in Knox, Lincoln and Kennebec counties, with ongoing studies in soil health and compost utilization
Years at UMaine: Six
Milestones: Recipient of the 2006 Achievement Award of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents

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Avian Flu Awareness

Question: What's most important for the public to know about the avian flu?

Answer: Avian influenza, often referred to as bird flu, is an infection-caused virus. There are two types of avian influenza strains low pathogenic and highly pathogenic. The current concern is the highly pathogenic Influenza A H5N1 virus, also called H5N1 virus. The virus subtype occurs mainly in birds, and is highly contagious and can be deadly to them. The H5N1 virus does not usually infect people. However, infections with these viruses have occurred in humans, most from direct or close contact with H5N1-infected poultry or H5N1-contaminated surfaces. Low pathogenic avian influenza occurs naturally among birds. The H5N1virus is not currently in the United States.

Question: What's the biggest misconception about avian flu?

Answer: One misconception is that avian influenza is the same as pandemic flu. They are not the same. Avian (or bird) flu is caused by influenza viruses that occur naturally among wild birds. The highly pathogenic H5N1 variant is deadly to wild and domestic fowl. Pandemic flu is virulent human flu that causes a global outbreak, or pandemic, of serious illness. Because there is little natural immunity, the disease can spread easily from person to person. Currently, there is no pandemic flu. The H5N1 virus does not infect humans easily, and if a person is infected, it is very difficult for the virus to spread to another person. All influenza viruses have the ability to change. That's why scientists are concerned that H5N1 virus one day could infect humans and spread easily from one person to another. This may then cause a pandemic.

Question: What's the primary message to small flock owners in Maine?

Answer: Small flock owners in Maine should implement and maintain appropriate biosecurity practices with their flocks to reduce the risk of infection. Proper biosecurity measures, including facility sanitation and flock health inspections, can be found on the Web here (PDF).

Question: How can people remain confident that the poultry they eat is not contaminated?

Answer: Avian influenza is not transmitted through properly cooked food. To date, no evidence indicates that anyone has become infected following the consumption of properly cooked poultry or poultry products. If poultry products are cooked to safe temperatures, the virus will be destroyed. Cook poultry and egg products to at least 165F (or 74C) to ensure that the food is safe to eat. Keep in mind that refrigeration and freezing do not kill the virus.


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