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Mexico reports highly pathogenic Avian Influenza in commercial flocks.

Washington, Feb. 6 -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture is alerting poultry producers to increase biosecurity measures following official reports of an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in central Mexico.

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service received notification from Mexican federal authorities that highly pathogenic H5N2 strains of avian influenza have been isolated from flocks on three related premises in Tehuacan, Mexico. Tehuacan, in the Mexican state of Puebla, is located about 100 miles southeast of Mexico City. The affected premises are egg-laying operations that contain an estimated total of 1.25 million birds.

An additional report of sickness occurring in commercial poultry was received from the Queretaro area, 100 miles northwest of Mexico City. A flock from a premises in that area was sampled for evidence of the highly pathogenic AI. Although no H5N2 AI virus was isolated, the U.S. firm that owned this farm depopulated the flock.

"We are extremely concerned about the presence of this highly pathogenic virus in commercial poultry in Mexico and encourage the poultry industry to increase biosecurity measures -- especially limiting employee travel across the U.S. border to work in different hen houses," said Donald Luchsinger, acting deputy administrator for veterinary services in USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Mexican animal health officials believe that the highly pathogenic AI virus may have been introduced into commercial poultry by migratory waterfowl. The current economic situation in Mexico has ruled out the possibility of government indemnity for the depopulation of affected flocks, but assistance through personnel and equipment is available to producers who choose to depopulate, according to Mexican agricultural authorities.

Federal and state officials and the poultry industry of Mexico have developed a plan to control spread of this virus through surveillance, quarantine, and vaccination of flocks in the areas surrounding the outbreak. The Mexican government has activated the National Animal Health Emergency Response Team -- an operational group of five animal health brigades -- which will sample poultry flocks in the region, enforce quarantines for affected areas and monitor interstate animal movements. However, this plan of action is expected to take two to three years to contain the current AI problem in Mexico.

"We cannot overemphasize the importance of on-farm biosecurity while Mexico has this AI virus. Even more stringent biosecurity measures will be needed on poultry farms in the United States this Spring when migratory birds begin returning from Mexico.", Luchsinger said.

APHIS' National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, is providing diagnostic support for samples taken from Tehuacan and Queretaro. At the suggestion of Mexican authorities, APHIS is planning to send an evaluation team to assess this situation further. Because of current import restrictions for exotic Newcastle disease, Mexican poultry and poultry products are not imported into the United States.

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