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Experts dismiss scare over bird flu

Diane Chun
Gainesville, Florida, Sun
November 1, 2005

At a time when headlines trumpet the potential dangers of "bird flu," Gary Butcher is the man of the hour.

Butcher has been an extension veterinarian at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine since 1988. He was trained as a veterinarian specializing in avian diseases, and has a Ph.D. in poultry virology.

"Realistically, avian influenza is not a threat to people, but everywhere you go, it has turned into a circus," he says.

But the virus can go from poultry to the wild bird population, which will carry it to other locales along their migration routes.

If and when it comes to this part of the world, Butcher predicts, it will get here via migratory shorebirds or waterfowl coming from Russia, through Siberia, across the Bering Strait, down through Alaska and Canada.

"That's how it is probably going to come in, and it is of very little relevance," he said, because the poultry industry in this part of the world is so different than in the parts of the world that have been affected so far.

Back to the unlikely scenario of those migratory birds carrying avian flu to a poultry house somewhere in Kansas.

"Only once in every blue moon do you get infection in a poultry house, and the government has a system of monitoring and eradication that means it is quickly wiped out," Butcher said. "So it can happen, but it is rare and it is not allowed to spread."

Because the United States exports about one-third of the 9 billion poultry produced, if potentially dangerous disease turns up, there is a policy of zero tolerance.

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