Winter-Spring 2015 Bird Flu Outbreaks
Although no one knows for sure when, where, or even how bad the return of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) will be this fall and winter, last year’s multi-billion dollar losses have the USDA, the poultry industry, and many other state, local, and federal agencies on heightened alert.
While the last outbreak was reported nearly three months ago, all summer we’ve been following the preparatory work being done by the USDA, the CDC, and others to ready themselves for HPAI H5’s expected return. A few examples:
Although there is not much that can be done about the presence of HPAI viruses in wild and migratory birds, poultry producers and backyard flock owners can take steps to prevent infection. To that end, today APHIS released a new set of biosecurity checklists and and updated training documents.
USDA Enhanced Biosecurity for Poultry Producers
Biosecurity approaches fall into two categories. Structural biosecurity is built into the physical construction and maintenance of a facility. Operational biosecurity encompasses the standard operating procedures (SOPs) that minimize the chance of virus entering the poultry house and compliance with those SOPs. Major enhancements to structural biosecurity cannot be widely implemented by fall 2015; therefore, the recommendations in this document focus on enhancing operational biosecurity. Over the long term, poultry producers will need to consider both operational and structural biosecurity to reduce their overall risk of HPAI.
This document emphasizes the elements for improving biosecurity that are believed to be the most effective and that can be implemented before fall 2015. Based on expert opinion and experience in the recent outbreak, the highest risks for HPAI virus introduction are personnel who enter the poultry buildings, shared equipment and shared crews, procedures for disposal of dead birds, and manure management. These elements should be the highest priority in allocating resources for improved biosecurity. Further, three concepts may be new to most existing biosecurity plans and should be strongly considered for all commercial operations: a biosecurity officer, a line of separation for each building, and a perimeter buffer area.
APHIS urges producers to develop a site-specific plan to implement enhanced operational biosecurity as soon as feasible, preferably before October 2015. In addition, effective biosecurity requires vigilance; producers should put a system in place to verify that biosecurity enhancements are being followed. Lastly, this checklist assumes that infections are limited to animals. Special precautions will be needed if the virus mutates to affect people.
The strain of HPAI H5 that arrived in North America, while related to several highly dangerous H5 viruses (H5N1, H5N6), has not been shown to infect humans. With any luck, that won’t change this fall or winter.
The possibility exists, however, that over time one these viruses could change behavior, or other strains could emerge, prompting the caution contained in the last couple of sentences above: Lastly, this checklist assumes that infections are limited to animals. Special precautions will be needed if the virus mutates to affect people.
As one would rightly expect, last June the CDC issued a HAN:HPAI H5 Exposure, Human Health Investigations & Response, providing specific guidance to local health authorities.
For now, the threat posed by HPAI to humans in North America appears to be low. Something we examined in greater depth last July in EID Journal: Infection Risk To Those Exposed To HPAI H5 Viruses – United States.
For more biosecurity information for the poultry farmer, http://www.poultrybiosecurity.org/ provides a large, and constantly updated compendium of videos, documents, and PDF files on biosecurity.