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A Silkie is seen at a New York fair in 2021. The breed is popular among customers at New York City live bird markets.

A live bird market in New York City has been depopulated after avian influenza was found there.

The detection in Queens highlights an important part of the Northeast poultry industry that has made great strides in combating avian influenza over the past 20 years.

Chickens, ducks and guineas tested positive at the live market. After depopulation, the carcasses were disposed of in a sanitary manner, according to the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets.

About 170 birds were killed, according to USDA, whose lab confirmed the outbreak Nov. 12.

The state is investigating the source of the virus.

As a precaution, other New York live bird markets have been ordered to clean and disinfect, and all markets will be tested to ensure the virus has not spread, the state said.

All live bird markets in New Jersey have also been tested for avian influenza, and all were negative, that state’s Ag Department said.

Despite the negative tests, five New Jersey markets were at high risk because of the New York detection, and they chose to undertake a virus elimination protocol. That includes removal of all birds from the market, cleaning and disinfecting, and sampling for the disease, the Ag Department said.

Those markets can reopen 72 hours after cleaning and disinfecting.

All of the New Jersey markets have been made aware of the New York detection and have agreed to increase their surveillance efforts, the New Jersey Ag Department said.

As of last year, New York state had 87 live bird markets, over 80 of them in New York City. New Jersey had another 36.

Though fowl come to the market from across the Northeast, most of the birds are produced on about 300 farms in Pennsylvania, said Jarra Jagne, a poultry professor at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, at a conference in Pennsylvania last year.

The live bird markets cater to customers of many ethnicities, with a survey finding Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Haitian Creole among the languages spoken at the businesses.

Each group prefers certain types of birds, including brown broilers, often called red birds, as well as spent laying hens, Silkies, guineas and ducks.

It all adds up to a vibrant trade, with half a million birds passing through Northeast live bird markets per week, Jagne said.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the live markets had little regulation, and often harbored low pathogenic avian influenza, which can mutate to a more aggressive form.

The current outbreak of a highly pathogenic strain, one of the worst in U.S. history, has led to the loss of 50 million birds across 46 states.

In the early 1980s, Pennsylvania had a major outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza involving a strain similar to one circulating in New York City live bird markets.

A strain from the markets was responsible for outbreaks at five commercial farms from 1996 to 2002.

"By the end of the '90s, the state of New York decided to step in and said, 'We cannot take this anymore. We're not going to be the state that everyone points a finger at that starts all these outbreaks in all these other states,'" Jagne said.

In 2003, USDA, New York and industry set up testing and prevention protocols that have greatly improved disease conditions at the live markets. For example, birds must now be slaughtered at market rather than customers doing that at home, Jagne said.

In 2019, the last year before pandemic disruptions, some 24,000 birds and 4,000 environmental samples from the markets were tested, and none were positive for avian influenza.

New York City has a moratorium on new live bird markets, and the COVID-19 pandemic brought renewed calls for a full ban, Jagne said. The coronavirus is thought to have jumped from an animal to people at a live animal market in China.

Avian influenza has the potential to make a similar leap, though the current outbreak does not pose an immediate public health concern, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


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