Published on 04/13/06

Untrue rumors surround bird flu

By Jim Crawford
University of Georgia

Poultry and poultry products are getting some bad press and are the subject of untrue rumors linked to Asian Bird Flu.

As a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent, I want to assure you that eating eggs and other poultry products is safe in spite of the rumors you may have heard. As a matter of fact, the Georgia Poultry Federation wants you to know the truth about avian influenza.

Not in U.S. yet

The type of avian influenza occurring in Asia is called H5N1 HPAI highly pathogenic avian influenza. We have never had this strain in the United States and do not have it now.

The disease is currently causing a major outbreak in multiple Asian countries. It is extremely deadly to poultry, has spread to wild birds in those areas, has caused more than 100 infections in humans and has resulted in some human deaths.

Actually, the transmission of Asian bird flu from birds to humans is extremely rare. Furthermore, the truth is that almost all infected people have had close, direct contact with live poultry infected with Asian bird flu.

Most of the poultry in Asian countries is produced in small backyard or village flocks. This puts people there in frequent contact with these birds and their feces and other secretions.

The sheer number of backyard flocks and infected wild birds makes the task of controlling this disease very difficult. The problem in Asia also presents a real challenge because the virus is present in such a large geographical region. These underdeveloped areas are not able to make a large-scale eradication effort.

U.S. industry prepared

You can take comfort knowing that considerable effort has been made to prevent the introduction of asian bird flu into U.S. poultry. Officials here have also prepared a response should the virus enter the U.S.

Unlike Asian poultry, U.S. poultry production units require very little handling of poultry. And the U.S. doesn't import any chicken, turkey or other poultry products from Asia. The fresh poultry you see in grocery stores is produced in the U.S., except for a very small amount produced in Canada.

If you're still concerned, consider that like all microorganisms, the avian influenza virus is killed by the heat of normal cooking. Even if this disease was introduced into the U.S., there is no danger of getting it from properly cooked poultry.

So, are eggs safe to eat? Absolutely. If laying-hens develop avian influenza one of the first symptoms is that they stop laying eggs.

If the virus was discovered in the U.S., the effected farm would be immediately quarantined. Besides, table eggs are washed and sanitized before they are sold in grocery stores. If the virus were present on the shell, it would be inactivated by the sanitation process.

So, go ahead and enjoy your eggs for breakfast and your Sunday fried chicken dinner without fear of avian influenza.

Jim Crawford is the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension coordinator in Jefferson County.