Bush administration officials said it was "increasingly likely" that bird flu would be detected in the United States as early as this year but added it would not mean the start of a human pandemic.
Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, Secretary of the Interior Gale A. Norton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt further ensured the protection of people, domestic poultry and wild birds.
The readiness plan and system, according to the three departments, builds on, significantly expands and unifies ongoing efforts among federal, state, regional and local wildlife agencies. Those agencies have been monitoring and testing for the presence of the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus in migratory birds for several years. The increased efforts come as the spring migration of migratory birds is underway and the spread of avian influenza continues across continents.
Wildlife experts and public health officials have been monitoring the spread of the highly pathogenic H5N1 since it first appeared in Hong Kong in 1997. Since 1998, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has tested more than 12,000 migratory birds in the Alaska flyway and since 2000, USDA has tested almost 4,000 migratory birds in the Atlantic flyway. All birds in these flyways have tested negative for the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus of concern.
Since the summer of 2005, the Department of Interior (DOI) has been working with the State of Alaska to strategically sample migratory birds in the Pacific flyway. DOI has already carried out more than 1,700 tests on samples from more than 1,100 migratory birds. There have been 22 avian influenza isolates identified, but none have been highly pathogenic.
COMPREHENSIVE PARTNERSHIP TO COMBAT BIRD FLU "The Department of Agriculture is working on many fronts, with many partners to further strengthen our ability to detect and respond to highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza," said Johanns. "By intensifying our monitoring of migratory bird populations, we increase the likelihood of early detection, which is key to controlling the spread of the virus, particularly in our domestic poultry. Having said that, it's important for the public to know two things; a detection of Asian H5N1 in the United States would not signal the start of a human pandemic; and properly prepared poultry is safe to eat, because proper cooking kills this virus."
Wildlife biologists, migratory bird specialists, veterinarians and epidemiologists from the USDADOI and Health and Human Services (HHS), along with the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, National Association of Public Health Veterinarians and the State of Alaska have developed "An Early Detection System for Asian H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Wild Migratory Birds