COLUMBIA - South Carolina agricultural officials say the state is prepared for an outbreak of bird flu, even though one is not expected here.
The Clemson University Animal Diagnostic Center in Columbia has increased testing for avian flu, including at the state's 631 chicken farms, and the state veterinarian's office is hiring extra employees to test at 20 auctions and flea markets where live birds might be sold.
The state Natural Resources Department also is preparing for testing of migrating ducks and other wild birds when they come back to South Carolina in the fall. That plan includes getting help from hunters and possibly testing during routine check-ins by hunters at wildlife management areas.
"Our emphasis is, you have to get it at the source, and the source is birds," Andrea Morgan, the associate deputy administrator for veterinary services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told a Pandemic Influenza Summit in Columbia last month.
Mild strains of bird flu commonly appear in the United States, but officials are worried about H5N1, a deadly variation spreading through Asia, Europe and Africa.
Scientists think the deadly flu would most likely be carried into the United States by a wild bird migrating from a country suffering from an outbreak.
It has killed 110 people, and scientists fear it could mutate into a form that spreads more easily among humans.
"It's important to know that this isn't just the flu," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said at the summit. "It's an aggressive killer when it occurs."
Federal health officials are working on developing a vaccine and the nation is stockpiling antiviral drugs that could help treat people who become ill.