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Maryland Vulnerable After Avian Flu Hits Poultry Industry Hard

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- It's devastated poultry operations in the Midwest and now avian influenza has a very strong chance of making it here to Maryland.

Alex DeMetrick reports the state's Department of Agriculture is already preparing.

A powerful strain of avian flu has hit the poultry industry in 15 states. In the Midwest, it's hit especially hard---Maryland is also vulnerable.

"If we should get this in the industry and it spreads, it could be devastating to the whole entire economy of the state," said veterinarian Dr. Mike Radebaugh.

Nationwide, 48 million chickens and turkeys have been lost to avian flu. In Maryland, chicken meat is a billion dollar a year business and it's worth another $52 million in egg production. Eggs are already in short supply because of the poultry losses in the Midwest. Maryland restaurants started feeling it in late spring.

"Every week, eggs keep going up," said a worker at the Double T Diner.

As summer began, shoppers saw rising prices.

"Every time I come, it's always more," said one shopper.

The editor of Supermarket Guru says egg prices will continue to climb.

"I think we're going to be paying 50% to 70% more before the end of the year," said Phil Lempert.

Experts believe it's likely avian flu will make its way to Maryland and this is why: it's carried by waterfowl, which are immune to the virus.

"And they'll be coming down in our area in the fall in the Atlantic flyway, so we're very concerned," said Radebaugh.

The Department of Agriculture has sent out warning notices to the state's poultry farmers, urging them to start taking precautionary measures now to protect their flocks and keep feed that could draw waterfowl out of sight. Measures will also bring changes to fairs, where poultry are normally exhibited.

"We have canceled the poultry exhibitions from August 25, which includes the state fair and six other fairs," Radebaugh said.

Because if it gets in here, it's over.

This particular strain of avian flu, while deadly to poultry, is not a human health risk.

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