HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — On Thursday, April 14, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture announced new steps to keep Avian Influenza from spreading in the state. The department declared a temporary quarantine, which banned the exhibiting of poultry, eggs, feathers, and other poultry products at 108 county and local fairs that receive funding from the state. The ban starts Saturday, April 16, and will last up to 60 days.

Right now there are flu outbreaks in 26 other states, many of them bordering Pennsylvania. So far, the only case the Commonwealth has seen was a dead bald eagle found in Chester County. No cases have shown up in domestic flocks. So why is the state putting precautions in place now? To understand that, we must look back 39 years to 1983, when avian flu devastated the state’s poultry industry-and millions of birds had to be slaughtered to stop the spread.

The first case of an H5N2 strain of avian flu in Pennsylvania was diagnosed in April of 1983. It seemed not to be particularly dangerous and aroused little concern.

Get daily news, weather, breaking news, and sports alerts straight to your inbox! Sign up for the abc27 newsletters here. 

But by October, the virus had mutated into something highly pathogenic. It ripped through poultry houses, particularly in Lancaster County. It could easily be carried from place to place, riding along with birds, people, vehicles, or tools and supplies. The mortality rate in infected flocks reached as high as 40 percent.

By November it was clear stopping the virus would require drastic action. Early in the month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture imposed a quarantine on 1500 square miles in parts of Berks, Dauphin, Lancaster, and Lebanon counties, including a five-mile buffer zone from any location where the virus had been detected.

But that wasn’t enough. To stop the disease from spreading any infected flocks would have to be destroyed. Tom Del Signore’s story from November 18th shows how that was done.

The outbreak continued into 1984. The quarantine lasted 11 months. By the time the flu burned out federal and state governments, as well as the poultry industry had spent $65 million, and 17 million birds were euthanized.

In the wake of the epidemic, new biosecurity measures took hold. These included limiting visitor access, isolating new birds, protective clothing and disinfectants, and not loaning or borrowing equipment.

The precautions seem to be working. The State Department of Agriculture says there have been no confirmed cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu in the state since the the 1980s outbreak.

But they’re not taking any chances.