The United States Department of Agriculture and the poultry industry as a whole learned a lot of lessons during the 2015 outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza, and as a result, will be better prepared should the virus resurface in 2016, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said.

More than 48 million birds were lost to avian influenza in 2015, with the last confirmed case in a commercial poultry flock taking place in June in an Iowa layer flock.

“I think we’re in a much better position to detect it more quickly, to respond more effectively within 24 hours to depopulate flocks if we see a reemergence of this,” Vilsack said during an interview with USDA Radio News.

To help expedite the depopulation process, USDA in September approved the emergency use of ventilation shutdown, if certain criteria are met.


Vilsack also pointed out that federal agencies have given approval to two companies to produce an avian influenza vaccine for the national stockpile, although no decision has yet been made concerning mass vaccination. Vilsack said the vaccines “may be utilized in very limited circumstances.

The agriculture secretary also said that poultry producers have been improving their biosecurity efforts, which should help limit the severity of potential outbreaks.

While the last confirmed case of highly pathogenic avian influenza was reported in June, Eurasian H5 avian influenza was found in genetic material collected from a wild mallard duck tested in Oregon in November. However, tests conducted on those samples were unable to determine the exact strain of the virus or whether it was of the high pathogenic or low pathogenic variety.