If deadly bird flu shows up in U.S. chickens or turkeys, the government will kill off any flocks suspected of having the virus even before tests are completed, officials said Wednesday.
If bird flu arrives, "quick detection will be key to quickly containing it and eradicating it," said Ron DeHaven, head of the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
A virulent strain of bird flu spreading through Asia, Europe and Africa has killed more than 100 people and hundreds of millions of birds.
Most of America's chickens come from big commercial farms that are well-protected against the spread of disease. Yet there are many small backyard and free-range flocks — as many as 60,000 in Los Angeles alone — where birds are outdoors and are harder to protect.
Officials encourage those producers to bring flocks inside and watch for signs of flu — dead birds, lack of appetite, purple wattles and legs, coughing and sneezing, diarrhea — and report them to state or federal authorities.
"We can't afford for this virus to be smoldering six months before we find it," DeHaven said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The government is testing more wild birds than usual, as many as 100,000 this year, and the industry is testing every commercial flock for the virus.
If the virus turns up in commercial chickens or turkeys, the government plans to quarantine the farm, restrict bird movements within about two miles and boost testing within about six miles.