|By JANE HOUIN
Washington, D.C. — The USDA recently released its 180-day report on avian influenza (AI) efforts and the use of $91 million appropriated in the Emergency Supplemental Appropriation to Address Pandemic Influenza six months ago.
The report details USDA’s efforts both internationally and domestically to combat highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza (HPAI H5N1), commonly referred to as “bird flu.”
“We’re working with federal and state government partners, as well as industry to prepare the public for the possibility of a highly pathogenic avian influenza detection in the United States,” said USDA Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner. “From the emergency response teams we have dispatched to affected countries to the testing of both wild and domestic flocks in the U.S., our approach will help to slow the spread of the virus overseas and prepare for the possibility of a detection here.”
Avian influenza is a virus that can cause a varying amount of disease among birds, including chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, geese and ducks as well as a variety of other birds. Virus strains can be either low or high pathogenic, based on the severity of the illness they cause in poultry.
USDA plays many important roles in the government’s response and is leading the efforts to confront this disease in birds. USDA is prepared to quickly and decisively respond in the event of a detection of HPAI H5N1 in U.S. poultry.
Highlights from the report include USDA’s close work with international organizations like the World Organization for Animal Health, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) to assist HPAI H5N1 affected regions with disease prevention, management and eradication activities. By helping these countries prepare for, manage or eradicate HPAI H5N1 outbreaks, USDA can reduce the risk of the disease spreading from overseas to the United States.
USDA also continues to strengthen safeguards already in place to protect against the introduction of HPAI H5N1 into the United States. For example, USDA maintains trade restrictions on the importation of poultry and poultry products from regions currently affected by H5N1 HPAI in commercial or traditionally raised flocks.
Additionally, USDA and state animal health officials are working cooperatively with the poultry industry to conduct surveillance at breeding flocks, slaughter plants, live-bird markets, livestock auctions and poultry dealers.
“We must continue to prepare all levels of government to respond effectively if a pandemic occurs,” said Ohio Gov. Bob Taft. “Ohio’s comprehensive pandemic flu planning effort will integrate strategies at various levels of government, coordinate activities across all sectors of health care, emergency response and homeland security, and provide Ohioans the information they need to protect themselves and their families.”
The Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Division of Animal Industry has provided surveillance for avian influenza on commercial poultry populations for more than 20 years, with current efforts including surveillance testing of commercial poultry from collected blood samples. In April of this year, a new ODH and EPA laboratory and upgrade to the ODA Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory were dedicated at ODA’s Reynoldsburg campus.
The state-of-the-art facilities will help better protect Ohioans and the livestock industry and positions each agency to more effectively share scientific knowledge and resources, especially in situations such as a potential avian influenza outbreak.
Ohio has participated in several pandemic flu preparation activities, including pandemic flu exercises in April and June as well as a planning summit in February hosted by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. The summit convened more than 500 health, emergency management, agriculture, business and community leaders representing all parts of Ohio.
USDA has also implemented a reporting system to answer calls and inquiries from the public regarding dead or sick wild birds. The toll-free number, 866-4 USDAWS, has been published on the USDA website - www.usda.gov/birdflu - to support public inquiries and help expedite calls.
In addition, USDA is conducting AI surveillance in wild migratory birds in Alaska and ten other states. Initial AI screening tests are performed by one of more than 45 USDA approved laboratories in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN). In the case of wild bird samples, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Wildlife Health Center also performs initial screening tests.
USDA has developed the National Avian Influenza Response Plan to ensure a quick and decisive response when any surveillance system detects any serious poultry disease. Last month, USDA’s Draft Summary of the National Avian Influenza Response Plan was posted on the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website for review and comment by federal, state and industry leaders.
The 180-day report on USDA’s Avian Influenza efforts is available at www.usda.gov/documents/Pandemic PlanningReport180.pdf
Additional information, including new video of USDA’s Alaska surveillance efforts, Iowa testing laboratories, public service announcements and sound bytes from USDA Secretary Mike Johanns on Avian Influenza, is available at www.usda.gov/birdflu