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Ohio readies for possible bird flu pandemic issues
Ohio Correspondent

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — Ohio officials are not taking anything for granted. They are assessing the state’s readiness and preparedness for a potential outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Ohio.

Earlier this month at the Ohio Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Operations Center, Ohio Governor Bob Taft met with key agency officials from the Ohio Departments of Health (ODH), Administrative Services, Agriculture (ODA), Natural Resources (ODNR), Public Safety (ODPS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with representatives of the poultry industry, to discuss the repercussions of an outbreak of highly pathogenic bird flu in waterfowl or commercial poultry.

“We must continue to prepare all levels of government to respond effectively if avian influenza ever made its way into Ohio, and this exercise will help us to coordinate federal, state and local agency response,” said Taft. “Strong partnerships and a coordinated response plan will help key agencies to protect human health and ensure the continued viability of the state’s agricultural and natural resources.”

Topics discussed at the meeting included how emergency responders would handle an incursion of bird flu in commercial poultry flocks and birds in the wild as well as how the state would communicate with the public.

The next day, Taft and top officials from the ODH, Ohio EPA and ODA dedicated the new ODH and EPA laboratory and upgrade to the ODA Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory 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.

“Collaboration and communication are critical to our action plan as the state aggressively prepares for biological threats and diseases, such as avian influenza,” Taft said.

“This new lab complex is a great example of what we can accomplish when state agencies work together, and it is a major step forward in our efforts to protect all Ohioans.”

The new 75,000-square-foot lab will enable technicians to more effectively test potentially hazardous substances and ensure the safety of lab personnel.

In addition, the new facility will give ODA and Ohio EPA lab staff much greater “surge capacity,” enabling them to perform more tests during an emergency.

“We have been monitoring the highly pathogenic avian influenza for over 20 years,” said ODA Director Fred Dailey. “Consumers should know that proper handling and cooking of poultry will protect them against highly pathogenic influenza, as it does against other viruses and bacteria.”

ODA’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory tests for avian influenza and last year alone conducted more than 20,000 avian influenza tests on commercial and market birds.

In February, Taft joined U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt in Columbus for the Ohio Pandemic Flu Preparedness Summit to address plans at the state and local levels to ensure that Ohio is prepared in the event of an outbreak. Ohio is receiving $3.2 million in federal funding for pandemic planning efforts. The Summit convened more than 500 health, emergency management, agriculture, business and community leaders representing all parts of Ohio.

Ohio’s Pandemic Flu Preparedness Plan, developed two years ago and subsequently revised, is an integrated planning and response approach led by the ODH, along with the Ohio Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Public Safety, as well as the State of Ohio Security Task Force and The Ohio State University.

In the case of an outbreak in birds, the state would operate under that State Emergency Operations Plan, which provides for quick and effective containment of any disease outbreak.

The ODA is responsible for quarantining facilities and disposal of animals during any animal disease outbreak. Existing state laws require all livestock and poultry brought into Ohio to have a certificate of veterinary inspection to ensure the animals are free of disease.

This farm news was published in the April 26, 2006 issue of Farm World.