Transcript of Technical Briefing regarding Avian Influenza U.S. Department of Agriculture - Washington D.C. - October 26, 2005
MR. JIM ROGERS: Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Jim Rogers. I work with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Legislative and Public Affairs Office. Today we're having a sort of Avian Influenza 101 to sort of lay out what the U.S. Department of Agriculture does and actually has been doing for quite some time.
We have five speakers today. Dr. Ron DeHaven the administrator with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will start off; followed by Carlton Courter the Agriculture Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia; Alice Johnson the president of the National Turkey Federation; Richard Kearney the Wildlife Program Coordinator at the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Interior; and Dr. Richard Raymond the Under Secretary for Food Safety here at USDA.
After these speakers have concluded we're going to open the floor to questions. We're going to start actually here locally for those of you folks on the phone we will get to you after we have exhausted the questions here in the room. For those listening on the phone, to get in the queue for questions please press #1. The question and answer format will be pretty much what it is usually here at USDA. We're going to ask that you stand up, state your name and your affiliation, and then go ahead and ask your question. We're going to limit it to one question per person at this time. We may get back to you further on in the briefing, but if you could limit yourself to one initial question we'll go from there.
At this point I'd like to ask Dr. DeHaven to come on up and tell you about avian influenza.
DR. RON DEHAVEN: Thank you, Jim. And I want to thank all of you for joining us today particularly on short notice. And indeed we want to start with kind of an avian influenza 101.
But even before we get started I'd like to thank our colleagues who've joined us, particularly Commissioner Courter, the Commissioner of Agriculture from the state of Virginia; Alice Johnson representing the poultry industry at large but she comes specifically from the National Turkey Federation; as well as our colleagues and friends from the Department of the Interior. So again than you all for being with us today.
So avian influenza 101. These viruses are actually in the same family of viruses that cause flu in people every year. So every year there's a flu season in birds just as we have a flu season for humans. And as you would expect some forms of the flu are more severe than others.
These avian influenza viruses can infect chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese and guinea fowl as well as other varieties of birds including migratory waterfowl. Transmission of the virus from one bird to another occurs through direct contact, typically through contact with respiratory secretions or infected birds will actually set the virus in their feces as well.
Worldwide there are many strains of avian influenza virus, which again can cause varying degrees of illness in poultry. These viruses are characterized by two different proteins on the surface of the virus. One is called hemagglutinin or H for short, and the other one is a neuraminidase protein or N for short. There are 16 different H proteins, 9 different N proteins, for a possible combination of 144 different characterizations of this virus.
Viruses currently circulating, as you know in several Asian and European countries and this particular virus is an H5N1 type virus. It's worth pointing out all viruses of the same type, for example an H5N2 wouldn't necessarily be identical. One of the unique characteristics of influenza viruses is that they are constantly changing or mutating. That's why you need a different flu shot every year. The viruses change or mutate from year to year, and therefore a different type of vaccination needs to be developed for whatever form of the virus is circulating in any given year.
With regard to birds, avian influenza viruses are further divided into two groups-- low pathogenic avian influenza or low path AI, and highly pathogenic or high path AI viruses.
Pathogeneticity refers to the ability of the virus to produce disease, obviously with the highly pathogenic viruses producing far more severe clinical signs and higher mortality in birds than you'd expect with the low pathogenic avian influenza virus.
Low path AI has been identified in the United States and indeed around the world since the early 1900s, and is a relatively common finding just as human flu viruses are a common finding in people.
Low path avian influenza viruses cause some of the infected birds to become ill and is even fatal to a small percentage of those birds just as some people die every year from the current flue strain that's circulating. However, most avian influenza viruses found in birds do not pose any significant health risk to humans.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza has been found in the United States three times-- 1924, 1983 and 2004. The 1983 outbreak was the largest, ultimately resulting in the destruction of 17 million birds in Pennsylvania and Virginia before that virus was finally contained and eradicated. The 2004 outbreak in contrast was quickly found and eradicated. This outbreak was confined to one flock of 6,600 birds. There was no significant human health implications or reports of human health in connection with any of those outbreaks.
In domestic poultry the greatest concern has been infections with H5 or H7 strains, which can either be highly pathogenic or low pathogenic avian influenza. The highly pathogenic H5 and H7 viruses are always of a concern because of their ability to mutate to the highly pathogenic version.
Again, speaking strictly with regard to birds, only H5 and H7 subtypes of the AI viruses have ever been shown to be highly pathogenic. The two outbreaks in the U.S. that I just mentioned both happened to be H5N2 viruses. The virus that is currently circulating in Asia is an H5N1 virus, and it is also one of those highly pathogenic viruses for birds.
This particular H5N1 virus is also unique in that it has been transmitted from birds to humans, most of whom had reported extensive direct contact with infected birds. I think it's important to emphasize, however, that there is no evidence at this time that that H5N1 virus that's currently circulating in Asia is in the U.S., either in birds or humans. Again, no evidence that it's in birds or humans in the United States at this time.
We do a lot with regard to prevention to keep this virus and others out of the United States. As a primary safeguard, APHIS maintains trade restrictions on the importation of poultry and poultry products from all affected countries. Customs and Border Protection colleagues have been alerted and are vigilantly on the lookout for any poultry or poultry products that might be smuggled into the U.S. from any of the affected countries.
Additionally, USDA quarantines and tests live birds to make sure that pet birds and other fowl from countries not known to be infected don't inadvertently introduce disease into the United States.
We also have an ongoing surveillance program. The idea of surveillance is simply that if avian influenza is here, we want to find it very quickly and then quickly respond to eliminate it. Early detection and rapid response is the key to minimize the impact on our poultry production as well as minimize any impact with regard to trade restrictions.
We have extensive surveillance programs in place in the United States for avian influenza in poultry. This surveillance focuses on our commercial poultry producers where we conduct over one million tests a year for avian influenza. Additionally, our commercial poultry industry is extremely vigilant in applying good biosecurity practices. Biosecurity simply means applying some very practical, common-sense measures to keep from bringing unwanted germs on to the farm or into the poultry houses.
I'd like to pause at this point to talk about some of the specific surveillance and biosecurity activities that are happening in the states. In order to do so I'm going to turn the microphone over to Commissioner Courter, again the Commissioner of Agriculture from the state of Virginia. Commissioner Courter?
COM. COURTER: Thank you, Dr. DeHaven. Thank you for allowing us to be with you this afternoon. I'm simply here as a state representative to highlight the partnership of the states, the federal government and industry as well. And you'll have an industry spokesperson in just a moment.
In Virginia, at the state level, we do strict surveillance on our flocks of turkeys and chickens. In fact we do pre-slaughter and post-slaughter testing on every single flock that goes to slaughter. We practiced strict biosecurity on our farms in the past. We tightened that security even further following the '02 outbreak in Virginia of a low path strain of avian influenza.
We limit access to the farms at the farm gates. We strictly limit access into the houses of the birds. These houses are tight, well-contained, there's no ability for wild birds to enter or exist these houses, and otherwise cross-contaminate the domestic birds.
Again I mentioned the federal, state and industry partnership. It worked extremely well in our break in '02. It resulted in one of the quickest put-downs of a disease in recent history. We as a state could not have done it without the help of USDA and the cooperation of industry in terms of eradicating that disease. It worked well in '02. We feel that it will continue to work well in the future to provide biosecurity and protect our flocks across the Commonwealth of Virginia and across the nation.
DR. DEHAVEN: Thank you, Commissioner. And now I want to again introduce Alice Johnson, here representing the poultry industry and specifically she comes from the National Turkey Federation. Alice?
MS. ALICE JOHNSON: Thank you, Dr. DeHaven. I appreciate the opportunity to be here to talk a little bit from the poultry industry. As you've heard, prevention, detection and containment are all a part of disease preparedness, which is nothing new to the poultry industry. It's a way of life for the industry. With regard to detection, Dr. DeHaven mentioned surveillance programs. The industry has been in surveillance programs over the past few years and will continue to do so. The programs are developed with the methodology, the testing protocols as well as the labs and the reporting all done hand in hand with local, state and federal agencies working with the industry to get the best possible results and to be sure that awareness is made on the issues and to look at the detection of the disease.
With regard to the biosecurity, as Dr. DeHaven mentioned it's a key component of raising any animal. In the poultry industry isolation, traffic control is key, along with disinfectant. And some of you may have been on some media tours within the poultry industry in which you were allowed to get so close to the house and then because of the biosecurity measures currently in place they said, I'm sorry, this is as far as we can let you go because we are concerned of the bird health.
So I think the guidelines APHIS has put together have been done in conjunction with several different groups that include industry as well as state representatives and are an excellent example of biosecurity measures within the industry.
And Dr. DeHaven, I appreciate the opportunity to be here. Thank you.
DR. DEHAVEN: Alice, thank you. We again appreciate both the commissioner and Alice being here with us today.
APHIS has conducted a major outreach campaign called Biosecurity For the Birds. We have a plethora of materials that we've provided to the poultry industry, this being one example of a small brochure that in fact has half a dozen very common-sense, easy-to-apply measures that poultry producers or for that matter those that might have backyard flocks can apply to reduce the possibility of bringing in any disease, not just avian influenza, on to their farm or into their back yard.
USDA has also been working with the State Agricultural Departments and industry representatives to increase surveillance at live bird markets in the northeastern United States. This cooperative program is designed to prevent, diagnose and eliminate if found any of the H5 or H7 subtypes of virus in those markets.
When we have unexpected poultry or for that matter livestock disease situations on a farm what we will typically conduct a foreign animal disease investigation. What that means is we have a cadre of specially trained veterinarians who as a standard will be on that farm at that live bird market or wherever we have an unusual report within four hours to conduct an initial examination and submit samples for testing.
As you will hear later, we're also doing surveillance elsewhere specifically in the wild bird population. And more extensive surveys are planned in the coming year. All of this is because wild birds are thought to be a natural reservoir or perhaps the natural reservoir for avian influenza viruses and one way that that H5N1 virus could potentially find its way to the U.S. is the migratory birds.
As you've heard already, APHIS is not new to disease incursions and successful eradication efforts. In conjunction with our state colleagues we have state level response teams ready to go. These teams will typically be on site within 24 hours of a presumptive diagnosis of avian influenza or any other foreign animal disease for that matter. Destruction of the affected flocks would be our primary concern and course of action, as we also immediately would impose typically state level quarantines and movement restrictions.
For highly pathogenic avian influenza as well as for low path H5 and H7 subtypes we work with the states to quarantine affected premises, clean and disinfect those premises after the birds have been destroyed and removed. We conduct epidemiological investigations to find out where that infection might have come from or where it might have spread to. And then we conduct surveillance testing in that vicinity to ensure that it hasn't spread.
We also maintain a bank of avian influenza vaccines in the eventuality that vaccine would be a preferred course of action in any of those outbreak situations. Indeed, we have done some testing on the vaccine that we have in that bank, and we do indeed have a vaccine that is effective against that H5N1 virus that's currently circulating in parts of Asia.
Again the USDA is working very closely with its federal, state, tribal partners along with the poultry industry to ensure that emergency response readiness is there if highly pathogenic avian influenza should reoccur in the United States.
As you know, there's a lot of effort underway in the U.S. and all over the world to prepare for potential pandemic avian influenza situation, and appropriately so. Our U.S. Department of Health and Human Services colleagues have the lead when it comes to public health component preparations for such a pandemic, and the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Levitt is in fact very much engaged in directing that effort.
In the meantime, the Department of Agriculture is working closely with the international community to assist highly pathogenic avian influenza-affected countries, those countries that have this H5N1 virus, and helping them with regard to disease prevention, management and eradication activities.
We need to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic in the world and indeed in this country, and as we should be doing we are. But at the same time we think it's important to address that infection at its source; that is, at the affected birds in countries that have that virus, and help them with the eradication efforts. Indeed, that provides the best opportunity by reducing or eliminating that virus growth to prevent such a pandemic from happening in the first place.
Well at this point I'd like to turn the microphone over to Rick Kearney who will bring a perspective from the Department of Interior on some of the activities that are ongoing there. Rick? Thank you.
MR. RICK KEARNEY: Thank you very much. On behalf of Secretary Gail Norton I want to express my appreciation for the invitation to join you here today. I think this epitomizes the close coordination that has taken place between the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture on this important issue.
The Department of the Interior is responsible for managing wildlife including migratory birds under various laws such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and for ensuring public health on the more than 500 million acres of land that it manages across the country. To carry out these responsibilities the Department and its partners are investigating high path AI in migratory birds and making plans to protect the health of its employees and the 450 million people that visit Department-managed land each year.
There is one point I would like to make clear up-front. Even though high path AI has caused mortality in more than 60 species of wild birds in Asia and in Europe, there are no reported cases of people becoming infected from migratory birds. There are three organizations that have roles in the Department's efforts related to high path AI.
The first of these is the U.S. Geological Survey, the scientific arm of the Department. The Survey has a long history of responding to wildlife disease emergencies and conducting wildlife disease investigations. The survey is supporting international high path AI research efforts by contributing information and world-class expertise about migratory birds and their movement.
The second is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Federal Wildlife Management Agency within the Department. The Fish and Wildlife Service administers the National Wildlife Refuge System, with many of its 545 refuges providing critical nesting, migration and wintering habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds.
The Fish and Wildlife Service also carries out permitting and enforcement responsibilities under federal law governing trade in wildlife species and their products. And it works with the USDA to regulate the importation of wild birds for the pet trade, research and other purposes.
The third element of the Interior is the National Park Service. With 384 areas of the National Park System the National Park Service has a key role in protecting the health of its visitors. The National Park Service hosts 32 commissioned officers of the U.S. Public Health Service to meet this important responsibility.
As you know, the H5N1 strain of high path AI has not been detected in North America. However, the expanding global spread of H5N1 increases the likelihood that it will eventually be detected here. There are a number of pathways through which the virus could be brought to North America. Introduction by wild migratory birds is but one possible pathway. USDA and the Department of the Interior are working together to address this.
In conjunction with the state of Alaska, Fish and Wildlife Service and Geological Survey biologists have been strategically sampling migratory birds for H5N1 in the Pacific Flyway for several months now. These efforts complement a series of ongoing avian influenza studies being conducted by the Department of Agriculture and its university partners in Alaska where birds that regularly migrate between Asia and North America are known to congregate.
The U.S. Geological Survey, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Department of Agriculture already planning a coordinated and more comprehensive surveillance and detection program for 2006. This program is being designed to provide an early warning should migratory birds be found to carry the virus.
Again on behalf of Secretary Norton I want to thank you so much for the invitation to be with you here. At this point I'd to turn over the mike to Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Dick Raymond.
DR. RICHARD RAYMOND: Thank you. And on behalf of Food Safety Inspection Service I want to thank you all for joining us this afternoon for this important information regarding avian influenza and in my case particularly food safety.
If high path avian influenza were to be detected in the United States I want to assure the American public that the chance of that infected poultry ever entering the food chain would be extremely low. That's in part because we have inspection personnel from the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service assigned to every federally inspected meat, poultry and egg product plant in America. Poultry products for public consumption are inspected for signs of disease both before and after slaughter. The "inspected for wholesomeness by the U.S. Department of Agriculture" seal ensures that this poultry is free from visible signs of disease.
No human cases of avian influenza have been confirmed from eating properly prepared poultry. In addition to proper processing in the plants, proper handling and cooking of poultry also provides protection from viruses and bacteria including the avian influenza.
But I want to reiterate at this point the proper food safety practices are important every day. As an agency we remind consumers each day and every day that there are basic food safety steps to follow. That's clean, separate, cook and chill.
By clean we mean always wash your hands and surfaces that have come in contact with meat and poultry products before and after handling food.
By separate we mean don't cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry, fish and their juices away from other foods. Cooking a turkey breast at an adequate temperature does no good if you've contaminated the lettuce.
So cook the meat and poultry to the proper temperatures using the food thermometer is the only sure way to know that you have cooked that product properly. Appearance will not answer that question for you.
A high enough temperature will destroy bacteria and viruses in poultry products. The USDA specifically recommends cooking ground turkey and ground chicken to a temperature of 165 degrees F, cook turkey breast to 170 degrees F, and whole birds, legs, thighs and wings to 185 degrees F.
And then chill. Refrigerate promptly. Always refrigerate perishable foods within two hours of taking it out of the refrigerator or having prepared it by proper cooking. And as a reminder, refrigerators should be at 40 degrees F or lower, and freezers should be at zero degrees F or lower.
You should also use cooked leftovers after Thanksgiving within four days to be safe.
Consumers should know that if they do have questions about safe storage, handling or preparation of meat, poultry, egg products they can contact us at the USDA meat and poultry hotline. That's 1-888-MP as in Meat/Poultry -- Hotline. Or 1-888-674-6854. That hotline is available in English and Spanish Monday through Friday.
You can also access "Ask Karen", which is our FSIS virtual representative on the web available 24 hours a day to answer your questions at USDA.GOV.FSIS.USDA.GOV.
With that, I think we turn it back to Jim or Dr. DeHaven for question and answers.
MR. ROGERS: At this point we're going to go ahead and start our question and answer period. Because as with all of our meetings this is being recorded for transcription we're going to ask that you hold your question until the microphone is brought to you. We have runners on each side of the room for your convenience. Please state your name when you're called upon, and give us your affiliation as well before you ask your question. We'll start with Bill.
REPORTER: Bill Tomson with Dow Jones. Seeing as I'm only allowed one question it has two parts.
DR. DEHAVEN: Folks have learned lessons through some of our previous press conferences in this room, huh, Bill?
REPORTER: Absolutely. This may be a question for Dr. Raymond. Are there any visible signs of avian influenza being processed? Can you actually see it? My second part of the question is because this doesn't yet spread human to human. Would the humans that would be most likely susceptible would be able to work on poultry farms if H5N1 were to enter the country?
R: To answer the first part of your one question, there is no visible signs on a chicken or turkey breast that that bird has been infected with avian influenza. What I meant when I said we inspect both pre and post slaughter, pre-slaughter we're just making sure these chickens and poultry appear to be healthy. Any animal that does not appear to be healthy is going to be taken from the food chain before it ever enters it. The after-slaughter process is, we do inspect the meat of these birds to make sure there's no signs of bruising or damage in other areas. But we also inspect the internal organs, and that's where we'd be more likely to see signs of early infectious disease.
DR. DEHAVEN: Because this is an agricultural briefing and we're specifically talking about avian influenzas as they would relate to poultry and birds, we're going to defer your question on human-to-human transmission to our colleagues in CDC, and rightfully so. Indeed, there's a lot of preparation going on within Health and Human Services and elsewhere in our public health arena. And those kinds of questions are best directed to those experts, and we'll stick to our expertise as it relates to avian influenza and poultry.
Jim, I think we're ready for the next question.
MR. ROGERS: Before we get to the next question I wanted to add for the folks listening on the phone and for the folks here in the room we also have with us David Suarez. He's the research leader for Exotic and Emerging Avian Viral Diseases with our Agriculture Research Service here at USDA. And Gary Frazer, the liaison to the U.S. Geological Survey with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department. So they're also available to answer questions.
Next question? Sally, if you'd hold for the microphone we'll get that to you?
REPORTER: I'm Sally Schuff with Feedstuffs. My question is for Dr. DeHaven. Surveillance and monitoring for the virus in North America, again a two-part question. Do we have cooperative agreements with countries Canada and Mexico? And what kind of surveillance will be conducted in domestic livestock, domestic poultry, swine operations that may be vector for the disease. And is that in place now?
DR. DEHAVEN: With regard to Canada and Mexico, our North American partners, we have an ongoing very close relationship and in fact have an ongoing North American Animal Health Committee. So we would be in that arena as opposed to a separate agreement that we might have where we'd share information with regard to surveillance on avian influenza.
Indeed I think we saw that in action several years ago when there was an outbreak of avian influenza and the southwestern corner of Canada very close to our border, and the cooperation there was very good. So I have no doubt that with the relationship that we already have established that there's good sharing of information, and to the extent that if we were to have an outbreak of avian influenza of any kind in North America we would use those existing mechanisms to share information.
In terms of ongoing surveillance, we're getting surveillance in our domestic population from a number of sources. We have ongoing surveillance of course in our commercial poultry operations. I think because of the heightened awareness around the world with this particular virus clearly our poultry industry in the U.S. is on the watch and very closely and very vigilantly watching for any kind of sign.
It's the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus like the H5N1 one that will make themselves known very quickly, and that it kills birds and kills large numbers very quickly. So I think here again we feel comfortable that if there were an incursion we would find it quickly.
I mentioned that we've got surveillance in those live bird markets in the Northeast, an area where we have historically found incursions of a low path avian influenza virus. But it is an H7 virus, so our concern there is that that particular virus while low path has the potential to mutate to a high path.
And then we're also capitalizing on exotic New Castle disease situation we had back in 2002 in the United States. You may recall this affected several Southwestern states. Ultimately it resulted in the destruction of a lot of birds. But if you're testing backyard flocks for Exotic New Castle disease just as easy to also use that sample to test for avian influenza.
So we've got ongoing good surveillance in our backyard flocks, in our live bird markets in the northeast, as well in our commercial industry. So I think we feel very good about that.
You did raise an interesting point with regard to swine. Swine is one of the many species of animals known to be affected by these influenza viruses, and it indeed may be an area where we need to be looking. In fact I met with some key leaders in the pork industry just yesterday to talk about what would be scientifically valid in terms of surveillance for influenza viruses in swine; how can that be used to help us in terms of surveillance for this particular virus as well as mitigating any reaction or even over-reaction should in fact we find an influenza virus in swine?
So it's another susceptible species. We started that dialog with the swine industry already to look at that.
I think it's important to point out too that the reason we are having this press conference, or I should say one of the reasons is, that this is flu season not just for people but it's also flu season for poultry. It's not uncommon for us for two or three or four times a year to find a low pathogenic avian influenza virus in our commercial poultry. We've got good surveillance. We find it quickly. It's quickly contained working closely with the industry and our state counterparts.
But with the current situation with that H5N1 virus circulating in Asia, our concern is that if we have one of our routine regular incursions of a low path avian influenza virus that we set the stage for an overreaction; not to say that we won't be vigilant and that we won't respond appropriate to the situation and do so very quickly. But we are trying to avoid any kind of overreaction because of the situation that's currently in parts of Asia as well as parts of Europe now.
I mentioned too, I need to clarify that I said we do have vaccines. We have a vaccine bank. Now these are vaccines specifically for use in poultry. We have two types of vaccine -- an H5 and H7. I mentioned because we have concerns that a low path H5 of H7 virus might mutate and become highly pathogenic. So we have both H5 and H7 viruses, 40 million doses; 20 million are an H5 virus, and we have tested actually our colleagues at the Southeast Poultry Research Lab, our ARS colleagues have challenged birds who have been vaccinated with that virus and found it to be very effective against this particular H5N1 virus in Asia. So we do have that on hand, but that specifically is a vaccine only for use in birds.
We're ready for the next question.
REPORTER: Jerry Hagstrom from National Journal of Congress Daily. I'm wondering if you feel that at the present time you have all the authority you need in terms of dealing with this should there be an outbreak of avian flu. And also when you have one of these, I'll say crisis situations for lack of a better term, when you have one of these outbreaks how do you get the money to suddenly rev up to do the things that you have to do? Is that through the CCC or your discretionary budget or how does it work? And what would happen in an avian flu situation? I guess finally with that, would you need any special action from Congress, or would the money be in the budget?
DR. DEHAVEN: Three good questions. I think we do have the authority, and we've found that in situations like the Exotic Newcastle situation in Southwestern United States where we did to respond we, in fact, declared an emergency at the federal level and imposed movement restrictions at the federal level. We did, in fact, have the authority that we needed to contain the virus, limit movement so we could contain it, and limit the area or identify the area where we had the infection and then control and eradicate it. So I feel comfortable that under the Animal Health Protection Act that we do in fact have the authorities that we need within the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service should we need to exercise them. And we'll provide an opportunity for Dr. Raymond to respond as well from FSIS perspective.
But again I think from an APHIS perspective in dealing with the situation in live birds we would have the authority that we needed, and I think that was shown quite vividly with the Exotic Newcastle disease situation.
Money for those kinds of situations typically does come through the Commodity Credit Corporation, the CCC, or emergency funding route, especially for what used to be called in the international circles the list A diseases put out by the OIE which high path AI as well as Exotic Newcastle are listed as diseases of consequence and ones that require reporting for all the member countries of the OIE, which of course the United States is.
So to the extent that we're dealing with one of the list A diseases or historically list A diseases that is not found in the United States. Otherwise we would go to CCC funding for funding a response such as that.
We are in the midst of putting in place a low path avian influenza program specifically for low pathogenic H5 and H7 viruses. A recent change of the OIE, those two low pathogenic viruses were added to list of AI viruses that are required to be reported when found in a member country. Because of that and again the emphasis is because they have the potential to mutate to a highly pathogenic form, we are developing this low path H5 H7 program. It provides for authority to do all the things we would need to do as if it were high path-- contain movement, depopulate birds, use vaccination if that was an appropriate route, as well as it provides for a mechanism to pay indemnity, some percentage of fair market value of any birds that need to be destroyed.
Those funds are in our budget now. It's included in the line item for both the House and Senate version of the '06 budget. So those monies are there again specifically for low path H5 and H7.
We're ready for the next question.
Excuse me. Dr. Raymond, anything to add?
DR. RAYMOND: Not really. Only that the current laws that we have that allow us to protect the food supply would be very adequate with an incident of avian influenza if it got in the food supply. Our ability to keep the product from going through or to withdraw it applies to all bacteria and viruses that may contaminate the food supply.
REPORTER: I just want to clarify that this avian influenza would be considered a List A disease so therefore would be eligible for funding under the CCC mechanism.
DR. DEHAVEN: Actually the OIE, the World Organization for Animal Health, has gotten away from what they used to call List A diseases. Highly pathogenic avian influenza was in fact a List A disease. Low pathogenic avian influenza was not. So they've done away with that system. And the new system is reportable diseases. So highly pathogenic avian influenza as well as low path H5 and H7 are reportable diseases. And so we've got funding mechanisms in place for both situations.
REPORTER: Grant Sholfy (sp), Houston Chronicle. Dr. DeHaven if the H5 and H7 strains were to mutate, is there any way to tell how quickly they could do so? And is there any way to forecast that such a mutation was taking place?
DR. DEHAVEN: Excellent question. And we have the appropriate technical expert who can answer that in the form of David Suarez. While David's coming up I'll just mention that we are tracking these viruses very closely. I didn't even realize there was an area called molecular epidemiology where you can look at these viruses at the molecular level and determine how close they are to mutating from a low path to a high path as well as helping us to make that determination.
DR. DAVID SUAREZ: I think the short answer to that question is, no, we don't have the predictive ability to know when a virus will mutate from low path to high path. Certainly from a research perspective that is something that we've looked at for a number of years, and as Dr. DeHaven had mentioned doing a molecular epidemiology is part of the research we do on an ongoing basis at our laboratory at Southeast Poultry. Molecular epidemiology is determining in the genetic sequence and then comparing that with other viruses that we know about. So that certainly can give us some prediction of which viruses are more likely to become highly pathogenic because there are some telltale signals that suggest that a virus is more adapted to chickens and turkeys, and where we really think high path originates from.
But as far as the ability to say it will happen next week or next month or next year, we don't know for poultry particularly and certainly maybe the added question is for humans. Again I think we should push that to CDC, but we don't have that ability either.
MR. ROGERS: At this point we'd like to open it up to questions on the phone. Operator if you'd please bring us the first question?
OPERATOR: If you have a question on the phone please press *1 on your touchtone phone. You'll be required to record your first and last name so your question can be addressed. Our first question comes from Erin Sykes (sp), NBC News Channel.
REPORTER: Hi. Good afternoon. Just a quick question. Are there any other states besides Alaska that you are monitoring they think might be at the highest risk for migratory birds coming into the area?
DR. DEHAVEN: That question will go to Rick Kearney from the Department of Interior.
DR. RICK KEARNEY: At this time sampling in wild migratory birds is taking place in a deliberate fashion in the state of Alaska. However there are opportunistic sampling opportunities taking place all along the Pacific flyway. In other words, when a bird is captured for another reason, banding of for rehabilitation perhaps, we are taking samples from those birds and testing them. And we have found no positives whatsoever.
DR. DEHAVEN: I think Rick mentioned earlier in his comments the fact that the Department of Interior working with USDA is planning for more extensive surveillance in the coming year as well, with several of the flyways.
Next question, Operator?
OPERATOR: Lance Gay (sp), Scripps Howard News Service.
REPORTER: I wanted to know how concerned you are about traffic, illegal traffic in birds and the effectiveness of this movement of this disease, the spread of the disease.
DR. DEHAVEN: I'll take that. This is Dr. DeHaven. We in fact are genuinely concerned that this H5N1 virus in Asia and now parts of Europe could find its way to the U.S. through products that would be prohibited, smuggled or otherwise. But prohibited into the United States. In fact we have found such product through vigilance working closely again with our colleagues in Customs and Border Protection.
But the fact that product is coming or might come from those countries doesn't, one, necessarily mean it's going to have the virus or, two, even if it does that it would find its way into commercial poultry.
But because of that we have alerted Customs and Border Protection and they are particularly vigilant for any movement of cargo or passengers that are coming from affected countries. We initially, in 2003, imposed restrictions on the importation of poultry, poultry products or birds from any of those affected countries. So we have the legal routes cut off.
We also have a group within APHIS called SITC, Smuggling Interdiction and Trade Compliance, who specifically targets ports and products and shipments coming into the United States specifically looking for prohibited product and of course now that we have the avian influenza situation they're targeting that area-- those kinds of products, that kind of movement from those affected countries.
So it is an area of concern. It's one of the potential pathways. Wild birds are certainly not the only potential pathway where that virus might find its way here. But it's also an area where we have stepped up surveillance. We're looking very hard recognizing that that is a potential pathway.
I think we're ready for the next question, Operator.
OPERATOR: Dan Goldstein, Bloomberg News.
REPORTER: Yes. Hi. Dr. DeHaven, in July APHIS put out an analysis of the threat of HPAI to the U.S. and one of the things -- and I'll read this from it -- in the event of an HPAI outbreak in the U.S., our foreign trader partners will impose a ban on all exports of poultry and poultry exports. I wanted to ask, does that mean that if the cases of a migratory bird is found that all poultry exports would be shut down? Or would this have to be a significant outbreak in our commercial flock?
DR. DEHAVEN: Very good question. There is a concept within the OIE, the World Animal Health Organization, called compartmentalization. The essence of that is that if a disease is compartmentalized either within a compartment of a commercial industry or within a segment of the population separate from the commercial industry, the trading partners should in fact only impose restrictions on that compartment.
We would argue that the presence of H5N1 in migratory birds would be a good early warning signal that it was getting closer, but certainly no indication at all that we have the virus in commercial poultry and therefore no substantive basis to impose trade restrictions on poultry or poultry products from the United States.
That would assume, and of course we would assure trading partners that we have good surveillance in place, that if it had found its way from migratory birds into commercial poultry that our surveillance would have picked it up and obviously we would restrict ourselves at that point. So we would make the argument in the context of the OIE that that disease found in the migratory bird is compartmentalized, it's not part of our commercial poultry production, it shouldn't be the basis for imposing any restrictions on trade in poultry or poultry products form the U.S.
But indeed those nations are sovereign nations, and their trade policies sometimes don't always reflect the science and the standards of the guidelines put out by the OIE. We would certainly make that argument, and I think could very effectively argue that would be no basis for imposing trade restrictions.
Next question, please?
OPERATOR: Martha Brant, Newsweek Magazine.
REPORTER: Good afternoon. It's again on the migratory bird issue. I'm wondering how many birds, and I think the Pacific and the Alaska Flyway are two different things, but how many birds have been tested so far or in 2005? And under this new Interior Department expansion plan, is there a target number that will be tested in 2006?
DR. DEHAVEN: Let me turn the first part of the question over to Dr. David Suarez who has been involved in the testing of the birds from the Alaska Flyway. And then also to Rick Kearney to talk about the plans for the future. So David?
DR. SUAREZ: Yes. Our laboratory has been working in partnership with several state universities including the University of Alaska to do wild birds surveys, both in Alaska and actually in some of the flyways in the U.S.
Over the last five years we've tested about 12,000 wild bird samples primarily from extreme Western Alaska, the Aleutian Islands chain, and have found a very low incidence of avian influenza and no H5s or H7s in any of the samples that we've tested. We have had a few positives of H4 and H6, which would be expected in a wild bird population again. Again we do feel like migratory birds are the primary reservoir for avian influenza.
So we have done a number of samples. I can't give you the precise number that we've done this year. Typically we've been testing 2,000 to 3,000 samples, and some of those samples are still being processed at this time.
OPERATOR: David Brown, Washington Post.
REPORTER: Thank you. Are there any known documented migratory routes which birds come into North America from the places in Southeast Asia where H5N1 is now endemic? Or are we talking mostly about birds that are blown off-course, but that's how it would get to North America?
DR. DEHAVEN: To go back to that last question as well as answer this one. This one goes to, if I heard correctly, is there any documented evidence of migratory birds from Asia finding their way into the U.S.? Is that correct? To the extent that you can address that?
DR. KEARNEY: I'd like to go back to the previous question asking about the amount of sampling that's taking place in Alaska in 2005. The work that is going on there now and still continues to this day is an ongoing effort in order to perfect our message to work through the processes and make sure that we have all the bases covered when it comes to migratory birds in Alaska. Our sampling effort is significantly smaller than that being conducted by the Department of Agriculture at this time due to constraints in resources. I can't go into the 2006 situation very much because that is included in a piece of legislation that has yet to go before Congress. But I can tell you that it will significantly increase the amount of sampling that we envisioned taking place in Alaska and elsewhere in the year 2006.
Now as for the follow-on question, birds blown off-course from Asia, there are from time to time individual birds called vagrants that are moved by weather patterns or other natural phenomena out of the normal migratory pathways. Are there specific cases of birds being blown from infected areas to the United States? Not to my knowledge.
H: Thanks. Next question, Operator?
OPERATOR: Thank you, Andy Worgan (sp) of the Oregonian.
REPORTER: Hi. Thanks for holding this. I'm curious. You talked about doing some live bird market testing in the Northeast, and you've talked about doing migratory bird testing primarily in the far West Coast in Alaska. But now that we're seeing the bird flu, the high pathogenic flu spreading in Europe I'm wondering is there any thought about testing for migratory birds, for instance on the East Coast or maybe doing any wild bird market tests in the West or in other parts of the country? I'm not understanding why it's geographically divided like this I guess.
DR. DEHAVEN: Rick? I think that's another good one for you in terms of migratory bird patterns.
DR. KEARNEY: Connections between North America and Asia are very well-documented. Between Eastern Asia and the Pacific Northwest there are numerous species that have very well-documented, well-understood regular paths of migration and which they nest in Alaska and on the North Slope and move southward away from the North Slope away from winter conditions to over-winter in more temperate climates around the world. So these patterns are very well-understood, and we recognize the birds that are on the move now away from Alaska and away from North America are going to be over-wintering in areas in which we have observed outbreaks of H5N1.
In return when these birds return in the spring we suspect there's a possibility that a number of these birds may return with the virus, and we want to be alert to that fact; though there is no documented evidence that migratory birds survive long enough to carry H5N1 over long distances, we can't rule out that fact. So that is why we are being prudent in conducting sampling in Alaska and the Northwest in the spring of 2006.
Now as for the European connection, there are a much fewer number of species that have connections between North America and Europe as compared to North America and Asia. We have been looking at those species and looking at the sheer numbers of birds that cross between Northern Europe and North America and are assessing the need to conduct sampling in the Atlantic Seaboard. But it's very clear to us even at this early stage that the potential movement of an infected bird from Europe to North America is much less than we would expect to see moving from Asia to North America.
OPERATOR: Jean Maurice Santone (sp), ASP Agency Funds Press.
REPORTER: Yes, thank you. I have a question about, is it possible all the animals like pigs could be infected with the H5N1?
DR. DEHAVEN: We do know there are a number of species of animals that are susceptible to influenza viruses. I'm not aware of any specific study with regard to the Asian H5N1 virus as to whether or not it has or has not affected other species. But again as a matter of routine, swine for example are a species of animal that have been known to be affected by some avian viruses. It is a potential that we are looking at. In fact we have initiated discussion with our poultry industry if there is or should be some program that should initiate with regard to surveillance in swine. But again I'm not aware of any particular evidence to show that this particular virus, H5N1, has found its way iuto other species. But I'll refer to colleagues if they know of any.
Please? David Suarez.
DR. SUAREZ: I think the chance of it going into swine is still unclear. The answer has not been solved. There's two pieces of evidence. There have been some serologic reports of H5 antibody in swine out of China from 2003. I don't believe there have been any reports of antibody positive pigs from 2004 and 2005. So there's at least that possibility. There have been a couple very small studies of experimentally infecting pigs in the laboratory and in both those cases they have seen some virus replication because they've given a large amount of virus to these pigs. But the pigs did not show any clinical disease.
DR. DEHAVEN: Operator, this will be the last question, please.
OPERATOR: Carol Sugarman, Food Chemical News.
REPORTER: Yes. This is for Dr. Raymond. I wanted to know is it theoretically possible to transmit the H5N1 virus to humans through eating undercooked infected poultry? And is there any concern about that, particularly in Asia?
DR. RAYMOND: To answer your question, theoretically, probably yes. There have been a couple cases in Asia of human infections with H5N1 that there may be a link to eating undercooked, diseased poultry and/or drinking raw blood, uncooked blood from diseased poultry, which is evidently a cultural situation.
The epidemiological studies in Asia are less than ideal on tracking some of these individuals for obvious reasons. So to say those two individuals that there has been a suspected link, were not exposed by perhaps living in conditions with lots of poultry is an option there. We do not know that for a fact. But I would have to say, Carol, that theoretically we are concerned about eating raw poultry products from diseased birds. That's why we continue to stress proper processing, handling and cooking.
DR. DEHAVEN: Thank you, Dr. Raymond. Well that concludes our press conference. Just a couple of wrap-up comments that I think are particularly relevant. Again one of the main reasons that we wanted to have this conference today was to alert you to the fact that we routinely deal with avian influenza viruses. Typically they're low pathogenic. We're concerned if they are H5 or H7s simply because of the potential for them to mutate and become highly pathogenic in poultry.
So if we have one of those, if you will, routine or regular incursions I can assure you and I think hopefully we've convinced you today that we've got the surveillance in place to find it quickly and the mechanisms to respond quickly and deal with it. But if it is in fact one of those routine incursions, no reason given the current situation in Asia to overreact based on that particular situation. This is something that we deal with on a regular basis. And indeed we could find an avian influenza virus in the U.S. tomorrow; that certainly doesn't mean that it is this H5N1 that is in parts of Asia and Europe.
I think the other thing, is to assure the public there's absolutely no reason not to have turkey for Thanksgiving. Indeed whether it's one of our routine incursions of avian influenza or otherwise, the public health is certainly satisfied with the mechanisms that we have in place both in terms of finding and in responding to it in commercial poultry as well as from our vigilant Food Safety Inspection Service colleagues.
So we have good mechanism in place, and I hope all of you will be enjoying Thanksgiving turkey. Cooked at 280 degrees. Thank you.
MR. ROGERS: 180 degrees on that turkey. I just want to thank everybody for coming out today. For more information of course we posted new information on our website which is WWW.USDA.GOV/BIRDFLU, and of course for APHIS USDA-related questions please feel free to call our Public Affairs Office. It's 202-720-2511, or 301-734-7799. Thank you.