HPAI Summer Update, Potential Impacts, and Health & Safety Precautions

With the arrival of the summer season the number detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) have declined considerably, the last confirmed case in poultry was reported in mid-June.  While this is certainly welcome news,  State and Federal officials are taking the threat of a fall re-emergence very seriously.  Dr. John Clifford,  Deputy Veterinary Administrator with USDA APHIS, said “the risk of the disease reemerging in the fall or the spring is significant” and  pointed to the outbreak as “the largest animal health emergency in our country’s history”.  Just this past weekend Minnesota confirmed that a chickadee collected in early June had tested positive for HPAI. This is the first time during this event that the disease has been discovered in a songbird, the exact virus strain that had affected the bird could not be identified. While this is likely a ‘spill over’ event from and infected poultry facility, this highlights the fact that the full range of species affected by these viruses is unknown.

Many of you may already be aware of the actions some states are taking to protect themselves from HPAI, announcing restrictions of varying magnitude on the movement of birds within or across their borders. These types of restrictions will likely become more prevalent if we see a reemergence of HPAI in the Fall.  If you have not done so already, we strongly encourage you to contact your State Veterinarian regarding your institution’s preparation for HPAI and capabilities in the event of an outbreak in or around your facility.

Last week AZA staff participated in a two-day USDA workshop focusing on coordinated response protocols in the event of a worst-case scenario outbreak of (HPAI) this Fall.  USDA is currently preparing for a large-scale pandemic that could reach all sectors of the United States this September-October. Since the beginning of 2015, over 50 million chickens (egg-layers and broilers) and turkeys have been de-populated due to HPAI and the cost of the recent outbreak has cost the Federal Government alone over $600 million. The possible effects of a full-scale outbreak on the poultry and zoological collection community could be devastating. It is imperative that exhibitors, even those without birds, consider the impact a large-scale pandemic could have on their facilities including rising feed costs and possibly declining gate sales.

While preparing collections for the possibility of an outbreak it is important to remember the responsibility we have for the health and safety of facility staff.  The “Compendium of Veterinary Standard Precautions for Zoonotic Disease Prevention in Veterinary Personnel” from the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV) is an excellent resource on protective measures,  and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC have a number of other resources available  to help animal care professionals prepare for a variety of biological threats.  In the case of HPAI it is also vital to consider obligations for respiratory health and protection, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to have a written respiratory protection program in any workplace where respirators would be necessary to protect the health of employees.  OSHA’s “Hospital Respiratory Protection Toolkit”  can be a helpful resource for ensuring your program is effective.