WASHINGTON The United States will test fewer
wild birds during 2007 for the avian influenza virus than it
did a year ago, but government officials said on Friday
surveillance efforts will focus on species and locations with
the greatest chance of detecting the virus.
The U.S. Agriculture and Interior departments, which
jointly monitor for avian influenza, told Reuters they plan to
take about 77,000 samples from wild birds during the April 2007
to March 2008 period.
As part of an effort to rapidly boost domestic surveillance
following the spread of the virus overseas, USDA and Interior
worked with states to collect more than 111,000 samples during
the same period a year ago.
Interior will test about the same number of birds, 27,000,
but this time it will spend more effort on dead and sick birds
that are more likely to show symptoms of the disease.
A reduction in so-called environmental samples by USDA,
such as testing of bird droppings, also will be cut in half to
"Last year we ramped-up efforts to learn as much as we
possibly could about avian influenza viruses in wild birds and
they took that information and developed a targeted
surveillance plan for this year," said Karen Eggert, a
spokeswoman with USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Worldwide, the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus
has killed 170 people since 2003, according to the U.N.'s World
Health Organization. An estimated 200 million birds have died
or been culled. This strain has not been found in the United
States so far.
U.S testing will focus on four major flyways-- the Pacific,
Atlantic, Central and Mississippi -- along with Hawaii in the
South Pacific. The lion's share of the monitoring will be on
mallard ducks, American Wigeons and Northern Pintails, which
have been found to be some of the most common carriers of the
Alaska has been targeted because it is near the Pacific
Flyway to Asia. USDA said Alaska will command the largest share
of its wild bird tests this year, about 2,000, compared with
other states where samples will range from 750-1,500. Interior
also said it will closely watch Alaska.
"There are several theories on how (high-pathogenic H5N1)
could get here, if you go by the wild migratory birds theory
Alaska is the most likely spot," said Nicholas Throckmorton
with the Interior Department.
Other vehicles being targeted for spread of the virus are
illegal smuggling of imported birds, trade of poultry products
and humans transporting it in on an airplane.
The U.S. testing program last year detected a
low-pathogenic bird flu strain in six states -- Delaware,
Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Montana and Pennsylvania. It is
common for mild and low pathogenic strains of bird flu to
appear in the United States and other countries.
Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at
Consumer Federation of America, said the reduction in testing
was similar to what U.S. officials did with mad cow disease
after it was first detected in late 2003. USDA boosted testing
soon after before cutting it last July to focus on animals with
the greatest risk of getting the disease.
"It looks like they are thinking this one through a little
more," said Waldrop, whose group was critical of USDA's
decision to reduce mad cow surveillance. "In that respect we
wouldn't be that concerned with them cutting testing (for bird
flu) and hopefully focusing their resources where they can best