The ongoing highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 outbreak has been devastating to the U.S. poultry industry and is one of the most costly national animal health disasters on record. While this particular disease incident affects poultry, there are disease risks that could just as easily devastate other livestock sectors.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is monitoring the situation and preparing for the likelihood that this poultry disease will be detected here in Tennessee. Many of the plans and practices in place are similar to what would occur with other species.
Since December 2014, USDA has confirmed HPAI H5 in the Pacific, Central and Mississippi flyways. The disease has been found in wild birds, backyard flocks and commercial poultry flocks. To date, 21 states have been affected including Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa being heavily impacted and declaring a state of emergency. At this time, HPAI still has not been detected in Tennessee.
Nearly 50 million birds have been affected and USDA response efforts alone have costs more than $400 million. There have been no human cases associated with this incident. The outbreak appears to be slowing; however, this incidence is far from over. Migratory birds appear to be the main harbinger of the virus, so there is a strong chance for recurrence and spread of the disease in the fall as waterfowl migrate south.
· The state has an Initial State Response and Containment Plan (ISRCP) for the control of H5/H7 avian influenza. The plan covers a wide range of responses and protocols for quarantine, testing, disposal, cleaning, disinfection and monitoring. Tennessee’s plan includes the use of an Incident Command System to coordinate response and recovery activities by both state and federal animal health officials. With TDA as the lead agency, planning has been done in cooperation with the Tennessee Department of Health, USDA, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency and Tennessee’s commercial poultry industry.
· Tennessee Avian Health Advisory Board is serving as the Tennessee Emergency Management Committee (EMDC). The committee comprises representatives of poultry companies, the Tennessee Poultry Association, the Tennessee departments of Agriculture, Environment and Conservation, and Health, USDA-APHIS and UT Extension. The EMDC regularly convenes and since March has conferenced three times for updates on the current outbreak and to recommend protective actions. The EMDC assists TDA and would make recommendations concerning repopulation, movement of poultry and poultry products and quarantine status.
· In addition to the normally scheduled Avian Influenza emergency preparedness exercise that is conducted every five years, TDA, TEMA, Health and the Tennessee One Health Committee will conduct a tabletop exercise and workshop in the coming weeks.
· While there is no evidence that this strain of avian influenza is communicable to humans, the Tennessee Department of Health is a major partner and is intricately involved in planning and response activities. This includes monitoring responders for flu-like symptoms, providing consultation on preventive measures, epidemiological and laboratory support, personal protective equipment training and veterinary medical supply management.
· In response to a request for assistance from the state of Minnesota, TDA has sent one staff veterinarian and two animal health technicians to assist with that state’s response efforts. Not only does this provide much needed assistance for a state that has more than 105 HPAI quarantined premises, but it provides an opportunity for real-life incident training for our personnel. We anticipate sending additional teams in the near future.
· We are fortunate Tennessee’s State Veterinarian Dr. Charles Hatcher is the current president of the National Assembly of State Animal Health Officials (NASAHO). As president, he conducts weekly conference calls between NASAHO and USDA-APHIS and is in regular communication with other states as to their protective and response activities. This gives our state a decisive advantage in keeping up with the latest developments.
· On March 12, TDA issued an Animal Health Advisory to make poultry growers and owners aware of the avian influenza outbreak and remind them of biosecurity measures to protect their flocks. Additional advisories and information will be posted on the department’s website as needed. The department is also reaching out to fairs and 4-H agents across the state to remind them about animal health regulations and recommended biosecurity practices.
· Each year, TDA’s Kord Animal Health lab tests approximately 22,000 samples from poultry for avian flu. This includes routine surveillance and testing for commercial and backyard flocks and for the National Poultry Improvement Plan program. Additionally, the U.S. Wildlife Services conducts testing on waterfowl. We will continue surveillance and will consider increasing the number of samples tested as needed.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is focused on animal health and protecting the livestock industry that is so critical to our state’s well-being and economy. Commissioner of Agriculture Julius Johnson said, “I believe we are well prepared to respond to and manage any disease incidence. We want to encourage producers to continue to practice and strengthen biosecurity measures and to report any unusual bird deaths.”
For more information on recommended biosecurity practices for commercial or backyard flocks, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/birdbiosecurity/biosecurity/basicspoultry.htm.
For the latest information on the current U.S. avian influenza outbreak, visit the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s website at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/home.