Bird flu's U.S. flyby?
Dec 01, 2005
"We have never had the technology or the funding to be in the driver's seat that we are today," says Dr. Carol Cardona, Dipl. ACPV, avian influenza expert with the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense. "We know that a pandemic will undoubtedly occur at some point in our near future. But we don't know what virus that will be. The H5N1 looks like a good candidate, however, it might never, ever become a pandemic virus."
Despite the plague of media attention, H5N1 largely remains an avian flu with little immediate threat to the food supply or companion birds in the United States.
Smugglers could introduce an array of disruptive viruses to the country. Cockfighting organizers are thought to have introduced exotic Newcastle disease into the United States in 2002, resulting in millions of depopulated birds and a multi-national boycott of U.S. poultry products. Newcastle disease remains a virulent threat, says Dr. Thomas Tully, MS, Dipl. ABVP, president of the Association of Avian Practitioners and professor of clinical sciences at Louisiana State University.
Historically, the incidence of influenza in exotic birds is very low, says Dr. Susan Clubb, Dipl. ABVP, owner of Rainforest Clinic for Birds. Influenza has been detected only once in the 30 years the United States has observed a one-month quarantine for exotics, she says.
"If you look back at import records (according to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory) there has only been one occasion since 1974 where a pathogenic bird flu has come into the United States in exotic birds. That was in Peking Robins that came in from China," she says. "Now people are afraid to feed the birds in their back yard, and there is a state of fear that we are living in. Exotic birds are not the risk. The risk is in poultry and waterfowl."
Still, practitioners who see new patients have a duty to inquire about the origin of an animal to deflect a range of diseases. Many breeders in this country use aluminum identification bands that identify the producer to ensure companion birds are made in America.
"Practicing veterinarians need to be aware and encourage people to purchase only those birds that have been legally imported. That's an important safeguard that we need to protect at this time," says Cardona, who is also associate professor and cooperative extension poultry veterinarian in the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Stringent surveillance and reporting protocols already in place to monitor for food-safety risks routinely test flocks for avian influenza, among other diseases. More than a thousand broiler, layer, turkey, game bird and ostrich operations are monitored by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP). The program was developed with industry, state and federal cooperation to identify and eradicate infectious diseases; 48 state agencies and 130 authorized laboratories monitor close to 10,000 flocks comprised of about 85 million birds for avian influenza. Most are broilers.