Experts discuss global avian influenza preparedness

Dr. Mark Davidson, USDA, reinforces that the US is prepared for potential avian influenza outbreaks this fall and that the country is ready to vaccinate if necessary.

Recently, experts from around the world gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, to discuss the threat of avian influenza (AI) to global poultry stocks. A two-hour symposium, hosted by global animal health company Ceva Sante Animale, bought together experts from the United States, China, the Netherlands and France. The meeting sought to understand the continuing threat posed by AI and the value of vaccination in changing times.

By September 2015 there have been 309 individual outbreaks of avian influenza reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), which is a staggering 147 percent increase on outbreaks reported in 2014. In the U.S. alone during the last six months, 48 million domestic poultry birds (layers and turkeys) have been culled in the United States due to AI, with the disease spreading across 15 states. It has been the worst epidemic of HPAI ever in the U.S., and despite the outbreak seemingly under control there are fears that AI could reappear this fall following outbreaks across 31 countries in 2015.

Dr. Mark Davidson, associate deputy administrator of the National Import Export Services at the United States Department of Agriculture, stated that “We have taken tremendous effort to prepare for this fall, on the potential that there may be additional introductions [of AI] as the migratory birds come back from the North.” He continued, “We will be prepared to vaccinate if necessary.” See more from Davidson in this video.

The U.S. has yet to vaccinate any of its poultry flocks, but Dr. Yannick Gardin, director of science and innovation at Ceva said, "Many dogmas have grown up surrounding the control of avian flu. Countries who decided to vaccinate were viewed as the bad countries, this is no longer appropriate.”

AI has proven to be a major threat for the global poultry industry, disrupting international trade and inducing high levels of mortality and economic losses in infected flocks. Emerging markets especially struggle to fight and recover from the disease, and decreasing public research funds only compound the issue. Nevertheless, there is still a debate raging among poultry industry experts and government officials, particularly in the U.S., on the necessity of AI vaccination.

Professor Liu Xiufan, researcher and professor at Yangzhou University in Jiangsu, China, said “We learnt several lessons from the vaccination program employed in ... in response to the AI outbreak. Firstly, for the H5N1 HPA1, the best control strategy is to stamp out the outbreaks at the early stage. Vaccination can raise the level of flock protective immunity, increase the resistance to infection, and reduce virus replication and shredding. Secondly, vaccination must be incorporated with other methods, such as biosecurity in farms, live bird markets and control of movements.”

Dr. Andre Steentjes, poultry veterinarian and member of the Poultry Veterinary Study Group of the EU said the take-home messages were “that countries need a good AI monitoring system, especially with free-range birds; and an early warning system – decide when you should make warnings public.” He also commented on the inconsistencies in public opinion, because often “people want the birds to be outside and don’t realize they are at risk of catching AI.”

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