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United States prepares for avian flu
Ohio Farm News
By Steve Bartels

The Butler County Health Department is giving leadership to preparing for the possibility of widespread disease outbreak in the area. This is known as a pandemic. A local committee of several organizations has begun training and information exchange as the Pandemic Flu Preparedness Committee. At this point, it is highly unlikely that the efforts that are planned for pandemic will ever need to be implemented, but it is good to be prepared.

Avian Influenza, the bird flu, is a disease caused by a virus that infects domestic poultry, wild birds such as geese, ducks and shore birds. Each year there is a bird flu season just as there is for humans.

Historically, strains of avian influenza have been detected in domestic poultry populations three times in the United States: in 1924, 1983 and 2004.

The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu has been found in an increasing number of countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. It is likely that the H5N1 strain will spread to this country and the local organizations and the United States Government is taking steps to prepare for and minimize the impact.

The U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture are monitoring wild migratory birds with samples from various species. The Federal Government, along with the State of Alaska biologists, is sampling live birds, hunter taken birds, and sentinel flocks. In addition, USDA monitors domestic geese and wild bird populations.

At this time, the H5N1 strain is a disease of birds that is not readily transmitted to humans. It has been transmitted to people but only through extensive direct contact with raw infected poultry or their feces. There are no documented cases of the disease being transmitted from wild birds. There is concern that the disease may mutate to a form that might be more readily transmissible and so the need for preparation by our local organizations.

Eating properly handled and cooked chicken is safe. If the disease would get into this country it is highly unlikely an infected bird would make it into the food system. Even if it did, proper cooking kills the virus.

Remember, if H5N1 does arrive in the U.S., it does not signal pandemic.

This farm news was published in the August 23, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.