TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Computer Program Helps Locate, Fight Bird Flu

Computer Program Helps Locate, Fight Bird Flu

Reuters News Wire (
Tue, 30 May 2006 21:53:34 -0500

US poultry experts using Google to beat bird flu

Poultry experts are turning to sophisticated computer imaging to help
them prepare for the expected arrival of the deadly bird flu virus in
the United States later this year.

Geographic Information System (GIS) technology is being used to
pinpoint the location of commercial poultry flocks, feed mills and
processing plants, said Sherrill Davison, professor of avian medicine
at the University of Pennsylvania.

The information will be used to help create buffer zones around an
infected flock and contain the H5N1 strain when it makes its
U.S. appearance.

Since the beginning of the year, experts have also been using Google
Earth, which combines satellite imagery, maps and the company's search
engine to span the globe. It gives extra details including the
location of buildings, schools and roads near large chicken and turkey
farms and production facilities.

"Twenty years ago we had to drive around the countryside and find the
chicken farm that reported a disease, but now everything is on a
mapping system," Davison told Reuters in a recent interview.

"Now, we can very quickly, within about an hour, know exactly how many
farms are in an (affected) area. Then we can know which farms to send
teams to for extra sampling.

"It may be there is an infected flock but they are out in the middle
of nowhere and so the probability of spread to another farm is very
minimal," she said.

The H5N1 virus that has infected birds and chickens in Asia, Africa
and Europe and caused more than 120 deaths there is expected to arrive
in North America this summer via migrating birds flying from Asia to
Alaska and southwards.

Testing of wild birds is already underway in Alaska but no signs of
the bird flu virus have yet been found.

Davison and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania were among
the first to develop GIS technology to monitor poultry flocks in the
state in 1998.

They have since used it to detect and control -- by swift culling --
minor outbreaks of avian diseases in Pennsylvania, which ranks third
in the United States in chicken production.

Other U.S. states have since adopted the system.

"Many states do have this type of a mapping system which helps with a
rapid response that reduces the spread of disease," Davison said.

"We began using Google Earth to help us locate poultry farms more
exactly. In the past we knew the chicken house was on a parcel of
land but now we can zoom in and tell exactly where on the property it
is. ... It is another tool to add into our rapid response program."

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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