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    Maryland orders chicken slaughter due to bird flu

    By Gretchen Parker

    March 7, 2004, 6:38 PM EST

    POCOMOKE CITY, Md. -- The discovery of avian influenza in Maryland compelled agriculture officials to order the slaughter of 328,000 birds on two huge commercial chicken farms, nearly four times the number killed when two Delaware farms were infected last month.

    The cases in Delaware and on Maryland's Eastern Shore are from the same H7 strain, which is not harmful to humans, authorities said Sunday.

    Maryland agriculture officials confirmed Saturday that a farm with about 118,000 chickens was infected. They ordered the slaughter of those birds, as well as 210,000 others at another farm about a mile away under the same ownership. The slaughter began Sunday and was expected to take until Tuesday.

    Agriculture officials also ordered a quarantine that covers eight farms within a two-mile radius of the infected farm, which grows chickens on a contract basis for Mountaire Farms of Selbyville, Del. The department also began testing 79 poultry farms within a six-mile radius.

    The infected farm in Worcester County is about 45 miles from the nearest infected farm in Delaware. Authorities said they had not discovered a connection between the cases, but could not rule out any relation.

    Officials emphasized the strain of the virus is not a threat to humans, but it can wipe out poultry farms, especially if it turns up in a highly pathogenic form.