updated 7/10/2007 4:51:40 PM ET 2007-07-10T20:51:40

Virginia banned all live poultry sales and shows for the rest of July following the discovery of avian flu antibodies in a flock of 54,000 turkeys on a Shenandoah County farm.

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State veterinarian Richard Wilkes issued an order Monday canceling all sales and exhibitions, Elaine Lidholm, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said Tuesday. The ban remains in effect until July 30.

The avian influenza strain poses no danger to humans, Lidholm said.

“The danger is really to the industry,” she said.

Wilkes also issued a ban in 17 counties on the transfer and application of poultry litter, a combination of floor shavings and manure that is either processed into fertilizer or spread directly on fields.

Facts not fearsNeighboring West Virginia on Monday suspended all poultry shows and sales for the next 30 days. Shenandoah County borders West Virginia.

The antibodies discovered in the turkey flock match those in a mild strain of avian influenza, but a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory is conducting tests to determine whether the antibodies are for low or the more severe high pathogenicity.

Lidholm said it appears to be a low pathogenic avian influenza strain, which is not as contagious as the high pathogenic strains that can spread quickly and are more likely to kill poultry.

No signs of illness
The turkeys carrying the antibodies showed no signs of illness, Lidholm said. The antibodies were discovered during routine testing prior to slaughter last week.

The suspect flock will be destroyed, possibly beginning Tuesday night, Lidholm said, to safeguard other flocks. There is a danger that a low pathogenic strain can convert to high pathogenic avian flu, which is more deadly to poultry.

The farm has been placed under quarantine, and can only receive essential supplies such as feed or emergency veterinary visits, she said.

Other poultry farms in the area have restricted access to their operations as a precaution to protect their flocks, said Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation based in Harrisonburg.

“People are kind of on high alert right now,” he said.

Nearly 5 million birds were destroyed in 2002 when Virginia had a full-fledged avian flu outbreak, according to Lidholm.

Virginia’s poultry industry contributed $834 million to the state’s economy last year, according to the federation. Two-thirds of the state’s 1,200 commercial poultry farms are in the Shenandoah Valley, with Rockingham County among the top three turkey-producing counties in the nation.

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