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Tests of Migratory Birds in Alaska Fail to Detect H5N1



The tests were conducted during the past several weeks in Alaska. Migratory birds are only one possible pathway for introducing avian influenza or bird flu into North America.

"Guided by the national wild bird surveillance and early detection plan, our collaborative efforts have comprehensively sampled and tested high-priority species throughout Alaska," said Kempthorne, who this week visited a sampling camp near Barrow, AK.

"Although no high-path H5N1 virus has yet been detected, we must remain vigilant and thorough in this important detection and early warning program. I'd also like to recognize the cooperation of Alaska subsistence hunters, of citizens who have reported dead birds, and of the Alaska public in general, who have made great efforts to become informed on this issue and thus are valuable partners in state and federal efforts."

USDA's Johanns added: "Close collaboration with our federal, state, and local partners is essential to the success of our national wild bird monitoring strategy. This plan is one of many tools we use to control the spread of highly pathogenic forms of the avian influenza virus. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also works on the international front, as well as at our borders and within them to ensure the highest levels of protection and early detection capabilities are in place."

The national wild bird surveillance and early detection plan is part of President Bush's National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza. The President allocated $29 million in his fiscal year 2006 avian influenza supplemental funding package for implementation of the wild bird monitoring plan.

The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), USDA, the State of Alaska, and the University of Alaska have been involved with sampling wild birds in Alaska since April 2006. The sampling program includes a goal to sample and test 75,000 to 100,000 migratory birds across the United States this year.

So far DOI (including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey) has tested more than 11,000 samples and USDA has tested more than 2,000 samples-for a total of more than 13,000. Of those tested by DOI, approximately 113 have tested positive for some form of avian influenza. This is to be expected since there are 144 subtypes of "bird flu," most of which pose no threat to domestic poultry or humans and do not produce noticeable symptoms in wild birds. Of the 113 samples, all tested negative for the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus. The Alaska samples were taken from 26 "target species." Because of their migratory patterns and habitats, these species were determined to be most likely to have encountered highly pathogenic H5N1 before arriving in Alaska.

Within the auspices of national wild bird surveillance and early detection plan, the USDA and DOI are working with Alaska, the other 49 states, as well as the U.S. Pacific Territories and Freely Associated States to collect 75,000 to 100,000 wild bird samples along with 50,000 environmental samples of wild bird droppings across the United States in 2006. USDA and DOI collaborated with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and the Pacific, Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic Flyway Councils to develop the plan, formally known as An Early Detection System for H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Wild Migratory Birds -- U.S. Interagency Strategic Plan."

As birds from Alaska and Canada begin their southerly migration from these breeding grounds, state, federal and university biologists in the lower 48 states and Hawaii have begun capturing and sampling various species under an expanded wild bird surveillance program for all national migratory bird flyways and states. This intensified migratory bird surveillance is carried out through cooperative agreements and projects with the states and Pacific Islands.

The funding level for each state is based on species-specific wild bird migratory patterns, historic disease prevalence, habitat availability and other biological and physical criteria. USDA and the states have completed cooperative agreements, with USDA providing nearly $4 million for state agencies to sample specific species of migratory birds at appropriate sites under plans coordinated through the four national flyway councils. DOI's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized cooperative agreements with Hawaii, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Thus far, these states and other cooperators have received $1.9 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement monitoring strategies in each state's surveillance plan.

Other potential routes for introducing bird flu into North America include international travel, and both legal and illegal commerce in poultry, poultry products, wildlife and wildlife products. Federal and state governments also have bolstered efforts to monitor these other potential pathways for introducing the virus into North America.

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