updated 11/29/2005 2:31:33 PM ET 2005-11-29T19:31:33

The United States has relaxed a ban on poultry imports from British Columbia initially sparked by the discovery of bird flu in a duck raised in the Canadian province.

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The strain of bird flu is now known to be low-pathogenic and poses no threat to human health, unlike the more virulent form in Asia that has killed dozens of people, the Agriculture Department.

U.S. officials said they banned on Nov. 21 all poultry imports from British Columbia until their Canadian counterparts could identify the virus, later found on a second, nearby farm as well. Several Asian countries that quickly followed the U.S. lead now are expected to relax their bans as well.

In the days after the Nov. 18 discovery of the virus, Canadian officials killed nearly 58,000 ducks and geese on the two farms, located outside Vancouver, said Brian Evans, Canada’s chief veterinary officer.

The strain of flu doesn’t kill poultry, but can leave them sickened and weak. Proper cooking kills the virus, health officials said.

The Agriculture Department said it would maintain the import ban on birds from within a three-mile radius of the two British Columbia farms. Evans said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is maintaining a voluntary ban on exports from the quarantine area and is carrying out ongoing testing of birds on the 78 farms within the area.

Farmers typically destroy entire flocks of birds when they discover the virus. A 2004 outbreak of bird flu in British Columbia led to the slaughter of 17 million birds.

The United States continues to ban bird imports from nations where the high-pathogenic virus from Asia has been detected. They include Cambodia, Romania, China, Russia, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia.

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