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Online Discussion: Tracking new emerging diseases and the next pandemic

U.S. unprepared- is an Avian Flu Pandemic coming?

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Medclinician View Drop Down
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    Posted: May 17 2017 at 3:05am

WASHINGTON -- If the United States were suddenly facing a potential avian influenza pandemic, just one U.S. manufacturer could be counted on to make human pandemic flu vaccine here. And although the chickens that lay the eggs used in the process are themselves susceptible to the virus, until an emergency arises, only voluntary and often inadequate measures by poultry producers are in place to protect flocks, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

The report, scheduled for release this week, comes at a time of heightened public health worries about bird flu. One of the deadliest strains, H7N9, is causing a surge in human infections in China this season. Of the nearly 200 people who have died, most had direct contact with poultry or poultry markets.

Health officials worldwide are closely monitoring the disease's spread because of the big increase in cases and worrisome changes in the virus. Of all emerging influenza viruses, H7N9 has the greatest potential to cause a pandemic if it evolves to spread easily from human to human. It also poses the greatest risk to cause serious disease.

Controlling the virus in poultry is the main way to reduce human infection and prevent a pandemic, the accountability office report says. It focuses primarily on U.S. Department of Agriculture actions after bird flu outbreaks in 2014 and 2016, which resulted in the deaths of millions of domesticated poultry in 15 states and $2 billion in costs to the federal government and U.S. economy. Despite the lessons learned, the report concludes that federal agencies face "ongoing challenges and associated issues" in mitigating the potential harm of avian influenza.

Bird flu outbreaks this spring in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky have led officials to euthanize more than 200,000 animals. Those viruses are different from the H7N9 virus currently spreading in Asia, according to USDA officials.

Among the report's findings:

Unless the agency is responding to an emergency, the Agriculture Department doesn't have the authority to require poultry producers to take preventive biosecurity measures to keep avian influenza from spreading from farm to farm. When the agency asked 850 poultry producers to turn in self-assessments on such measures, less than 60 percent said they had key practices in place to reduce contamination -- such as having workers shower or change into clean clothes immediately after arriving at a poultry site to reduce the risk of introducing a bird flu virus.

comment: Where there is smoke, there is often fire and we have seen in the past with large outbreaks of Avian in poultry there are soon outbreaks in humans. 

On March 5, workers noticed an unusually high amount of dead birds in one of eight barns on a chicken farm in Lincoln County, TN., that supplies Tyson Foods. State officials were called in and it was determined that the broiler chickens were suffering from a highly pathogenic avian influenza called H7N9 (scientists classify bird flu by subtype and strain; genetically related strains in a subtype are called a lineage). Although the H7N9 is the same subtype as the Chinese version affecting humans that first emerged in 2013, it’s a different lineage and, thankfully, doesn’t infect people.

comment: Another sweeping outbreak in the poultry in the U.S. is an event that will happen "not if, but when" And the fact they are carrying a new strain of H7N9 which could mutate and infect humans would be a real problem. Still the fatality rate is about 35% and that in Pandemic form would far exceed the infamous outbreak in 1918.


"not if but when" the original Medclinician
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