Avian Influenza Update -- Facts for Consumers
Sheila E. Scheideler, Extension Poultry Specialist and Julie Albrecht, Food Specialist, University of Nebraska
January 22, 2007: Update on Avian Flu and 4-H Embryology Projects.
The highly pathogenic strain of Avian Flu is still present in theAsian poultry market place. Cases have been reported in the past 6months in the countries of Indonesia, China, Azerbaijean and Egypt.Number of human cases of avian influenza worldwide totaled 114 in 2006with the concentration in Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa.Not all of the human cases resulted in mortality. Spread of AI has beenprimarily between backyard flocks and their workers/owners, not throughcommercial poultry flocks. Commercial flocks are able to employbiosecurity measurers to prevent the rapid spread of AI more readilythan backyard flocks in these countries. Vaccines are currently beingdeveloped for both chickens and humans and are being tested forchickens in China.
On the home front, monitoring for AI in commercial and backyardflocks has been stepped up through federal funding and local stateprograms. Testing of migratory fowl for AI has also been a focus sincemigratory birds are a potential way for AI to enter the United States.All hens producing hatching eggs for the commercial poultry industryshould be part of a current AI testing program. Eggs you purchase forembryology will come from tested AI-free flocks. Since the highlypathogenic form of AI has not come to the U.S. in the past 3 yearswhile it has existed primarily in Asia, it is highly unlikely to behere in the very near future. If it does come to the U.S., the poultryindustries' aggressive testing program will identify it quickly andwill quarantine infected flocks.
As your students start their embryology projects, it is important toalleviate their fears of Bird Flu and to not associate a risk for birdflu with conducting their projects. There are a number of good resourcewebsites if teachers would like to do more research on this topic. Agood one is: http://www.avianinfluenzainfo.com/ which addresses mostlyconsumer issues about how bird flu affects the poultry products we eat.
If anything new develops on the risk of AI in U.S. poultry flocks,the county extension offices will be immediately notified by the StateExtension Poultry Specialist. In the meantime, you may all feel safeand hopefully well-informed to conduct and enjoy the science ofembryology.
Avian Influenza (AI), bird flu, is a virus that can affect a numberof species of animals, primarily wild birds and poultry. There are twotypes of AI in poultry: low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) andhighly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). The type of AI in the newslately is a HAPI strain H5N1. This particular strain causes highmortality in the flocks it infects and can be seriously harmful tohumans contracting it while working with sick poultry. Fortunately,this strain has not reached North or South American and seems to beconcentrated in Asia with some spread to Europe, the Middle East andAfrica. The likelihood of this strain of AI making it to the UnitedStates is not strong but a remote possiblity does exist.
The U.S. poultry industgry and USDA government agenices have takenproactive steps to protect our poultry and egg food source from AI.Some of those measures include:
1) Wild Bird Surveillance: The federal government is samplingmigratory birds to provide early warning of any appearance of HPAI inNorth America.
2) Strict biosecurity measures for commercial poultry farms.Protection of commerical flocks producing eggs and poultry meat fromcontact with wild birds.
3) Commerical poultry industry flock testing for avian influenzabefore products are mraketed. If a flock is tested positive for AI,further tests are conducted to determine if the AI is H5N1/H7. If itwere to be positive, these flocks would be immediately euthanized andproduct will not enter the market place.
4) Food Safety: AI virus is killed by cooking poultry (chicken,turkey, duck, eggs, etc.) to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Infected productwill not enter the food chain with the precautions being taken by thecommercial poultry industry.
5) Wild game (duck, goose) obtained by hunters should be handledcarefully when processing them at home. Clean hands, utensils andsurfaces with hot soapy water before and after processing. A sanitizingsolution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach per gallon of water isrecommended for sanitizing food surfaces and utensils after cleaningwith hot soapy water and rinsing. Wild game should be cooked to 165degrees to destroy any pathogen or AI virus, if present. If homeprocessing one's own domestic birds, the same precautions exist.
The population most susceptible to bird flu, re the workers on farmswhere the disease is present. Most of the human cases in Asia haveoccurred with small flocks where sanitation procedures were lacking.The evidence for human to human transmission of HPAI is also notconcrete.
In summary, the U.S. poultry industry and USDA are taking rational,scientific precautions to keep HPAI out of our food supply. Thelikelihood of an AI pandemic in North America is at a minimum risklevel at this time.