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Congress OKs $91.4 million to fight bird flu
By JANE HOUIN
Ohio Correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Congress is taking the threat of avian influenza seriously. Within the last week, Congress authorized an additional $91.4 million in funding to enhance the USDA’s efforts to prevent and prepare for avian influenza, often referred to as “bird flu.”

“These funds will enable us to (intensify) our surveillance in the United States and deliver increased assistance to countries impacted by the virus, in hopes of prevention further spread and protecting both human and animal health,” said USDA Secretary Mike Johanns.

The funding is part of a larger request submitted by President Bush to implement the National Strategy to Safeguard Against the Danger of Pandemic Influenza. Of the $91.4 million approved, $73 million will be used for domestic programs.

Of that spent on domestic programming, nearly half ($32 million) will be used for surveillance and diagnostic measures of wildlife/bird fly-aways, waterfowl birds and training. An additional $10 million will be used to increase the current animal vaccine stockpile by 40 million doses as well as stockpile other response supplies.

Additional $9 million will go towards trade compliance smuggling interventions and enforcement with another $9 million earmarked for planning and preparedness training and the development of simulation models.

Of the remaining domestic funds, $7 million will go towards continued research and development of improved tools, including vaccines, genome sequencing, and environmental or biosecurity measures, with another $6 million for biosecurity measures to rapidly contain or exclude H5N1 AI virus from poultry farms or premises.

In addition to the $73 million for domestic programs, the remaining $18 million will be used in collaboration with other partners to control AI in Asian countries where the virus is currently endemic. USDA is working closely with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of the Interior, as well as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, state and tribal leaders, along with industry stakeholders to enhance emergency response plans in the event that HPAI is detected in the United States.

Each year there is a flu season for birds just as there is for humans and worldwide, there are many strains of AI virus, which can cause varying degrees of illness in poultry. Migratory waterfowl are known to carry the less infectious strains of AI viruses.

AI strains are divided into two groups: low pathogenicity (LP) and high pathogenicity (HP). LPAI, or “low path” avian influenza, has existed in the United States since the early 1900s and is commonly found here. It causes birds to become ill and can be fatal. These strains of the disease pose no known serious threat to human health.

HPAI, or “high path” avian influenza, is fatal and more easily transmissible. HPAI H5N1 is the type currently affecting parts of Asia and Eastern Europe. These strains of the disease in Asia have been transmitted from birds to humans, most of whom had extensive, direct contact with infected birds.

HPAI has been detected three times in the United States: in 1924, 1983 and 2004. The 2004 outbreak was quickly confined to one flock and eradicated. There were no human illnesses reported in connection with these outbreaks.

Additional information about USDA avian influenza efforts can be found at http://www.usda.gov/birdflu and on the U.S. government’s comprehensive website at www.pandemicflu.gov

Published in the January 11, 2006 issue of Farm World.

1/11/2006