US - US avian flu experts were once again invited to speak at a committee on the the federal and state response to the outbreaks last week, this time in the House of Representatives.
Identified as one of the worst animal disease outbreaks the US has ever experienced, the disease infected more than 220 farms in 21 states.
As a result, nearly 48 million chickens and turkeys have been depopulated and millions of dollars have been spent to aid in response efforts.
Members heard from representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and state officials who have taken part in the response effort and discussed the successes and challenges of the process.
Committee members asked about progress on avian flu vaccines. Witness Dr David Swayne of the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory said that the vaccine currently being tested has 100 per cent protection in chickens, and turkey results will be available later in August.
However, he said that further data analysis was needed, and discussions will be held with university partners and other stakeholders to work out how best the vaccine might be used in poultry houses.
Dr Swayne emphasised the need for vaccines to be used wisely to prevent the development of resistance.
Dr John Clifford, Deputy Administrator of Veterinary Services at USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said that there will be vaccine stockpiles ready in time for the autumn migration of wild birds, which is expected to spread avian flu further.
He said that more discussion is needed over whether to use these vaccines, given the potential impacts on trade. Whilst the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) would allow trade in vaccinated animal products, Dr Clifford said there is a culture of vaccines being seen as unable to control disease fully, and that many regulations regarding vaccines are outdated.
He will be embarking on a tour of US trade partners to discuss vaccination plans, as well as regionalisation of the US so that non-infected areas could continue to export poultry products, a policy that is not currently enacted by all countries.
The committee also discussed the need for research into accurate tests to ensure that differentiation between infected and vaccinated birds is possible. Scientists will be working closely with other countries such as Canada and Mexico to monitor the viruses in circulation.
Witnesses had a clear focus on biosecurity, with several of them saying that depopulation within 24 hours and rapid disposal of dead birds is necessary to prevent onward spread. For this to happen, greater outreach to producers and more planning was seen as key.
Training in the use of foam equipment and sourcing of more foam units used in depopulation efforts were seen as important aspects to improve preparation by North Carolina's State Veterinarian Dr R. Douglas Meckes. Dr Clifford emphasised that officials are aiming to use the most humane methods possible to cull birds in the event of future outbreaks.
Subcommittee Chairman Rouzer said: “The impact of the avian influenza outbreak has been devastating, and it is essential that we learn from the outbreak this past spring and put in place the proper steps to minimise the impact of a possible outbreak in the Southeast when the temperatures decrease this fall.
"Today, we heard what was done right during the response and where there are still opportunities for improvement.
"As we continue our oversight, we will certainly consider any suggestions to modify our policies in order to expedite and improve the efficacy of our animal disease response capabilities."
Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway said: “The outbreak of this highly pathogenic disease is one of the worst we have ever seen in the US. It is absolutely vital that USDA and vulnerable states are prepared to respond quickly if this outbreak returns in the fall, as is expected.
"Both USDA and the states have put forth great effort to isolate this disease and mitigate loss these past few months, and I thank them for their hard work."
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