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USDA/CDC Ramping UP to Control Spread of Avian Flu

Dr John Clifford
Dr John Clifford

An egg production facility in Iowa is the latest to be infected with the avian flu virus. Government officials are ramping up programs and procedures to protect flocks and people. The highly pathogenic virus is spreading across the US infecting more and more flocks in more and more states. It is believed that migratory birds are the cause of the disease, but USDA Chief Veterinary officer Dr. John Clifford admitted they are not sure how the virus is moving from one area to another. One possibility may be wind, “It is possible that the wind is blowing feathers or dust that is infected with the virus into poultry buildings or other areas.” Thus he us urging producers to set up their bio-security measures. The H5N2 strain was first detected in the US in mid-December. So far, it has been detected in wild birds and commercial birds in 16 US states. Indiana BOAH officials have a monitoring program in place and have contingency plans if the virus shows up in the Hoosier State.

biosecurityWork is being done on a possible vaccine, but there is not likely to be one ready for use in the near future.   Dr. Clifford says warmer weather is the best hope for a slowdown in the virus. During a press briefing on Wednesday, he said he expects the number of new cases to decline as warmer summer weather spreads across the US.

While there is NO food safety problem, there is the possibility that the virus may infect humans. Dr. Alicia Fry, CDC, says while the risk for human contamination remains low, as the virus spreads the chance for human infection increases, “We are cautiously optimistic we will not see any human cases but there is that possibility.”  She added this virus has “not caused infections in humans anywhere in the world.” Meanwhile, the CDC has been studying the virus to find out more about how it works. “So far, genetic analysis has not shown any of the markers that are known to be associated with increased severity in people or an increased ability to spread among people,” Fry says. Still, the CDC is taking routine precautions that include trying to develop a vaccine that could be used in humans, should it ever be needed.

The virus is having an impact on poultry supplies and exports. Poultry producers and manufacturers have already seen their exports drop in the first quarter of 2015 and fear a greater downturn in poultry consumption as the virus spreads.  Broiler shipments overall were down 17 percent in February, as compared to a year earlier. Noting the decrease in poultry activity, last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture cut its forecast for turkey exports in 2015 to 720 million pounds, more than 10 percent less than 2014. Broiler and turkey exports in 2015 together will be more than 700 million pounds below last year’s levels, a drop of 9 percent.