HPAI Emergency Response:
WS and State Partners Begin Wild Bird Surveillance
Nearly 10 years ago, Wildlife Services (WS) and its partners rose to the challenge of designing, developing, and implementing the first national avian influenza surveillance effort in wild birds. WS’ disease biologists, in collaboration with state and federal partners, collected more than 400,000 wild bird and environmental samples from across the United States in an effort to detect the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 strain that had been decimating domestic poultry flocks in Asia and Europe. At the time, no one had ever attempted to conduct such a large and comprehensive wildlife disease surveillance program. Although the H5N1 strain was never found, WS employees set the gold standard for such efforts and their work resulted in the largest database of avian influenza samples in the United States. NWRC scientists and others have tapped into this database to learn more about the prevalence and ecology of avian influenzas, as well as develop more strategic emergency response plans for future surveillance.
Fast forward to today and the value of those efforts becomes apparent. Since December 2014, APHIS has been embroiled in the largest animal health emergency response in its history. The spread of HPAI in commercial poultry and backyard flocks has cost more than $500 million and required the expertise of nearly 500 APHIS employees and 2,500 contractors and federal partners.
WS wildlife disease biologists are again sampling for HPAI in wild birds. From now until March 2016, WS experts and their state and federal partners will collect nearly 41,000 samples from apparently healthy wild birds in targeted areas through the United States.
“Our previous work has helped us to be more prepared for today’s challenges,” notes Dr. Tom DeLiberto, HPAI Incident Command Group and Wildlife Unit Leader for the National Incident Command. “Waterfowl movement patterns and information from WS’ 2006-2011 surveillance effort were analyzed and used to determine the most appropriate species and sampling locations to make the 2015 effort as efficient and informative as possible.”
The current interagency wild bird surveillance effort will focus on sampling live-captured and hunter-harvested dabbling ducks, such as American black duck, American green-winged teal, mallard and northern pintail. Additionally, environ-mental fecal samples from waterfowl and samples from morbidity and mortality events of all wild bird species will be collected. Results from the surveillance effort will be incorporated into national risk assessments, as well as prepared-ness and response planning efforts so that HPAI risks are reduced in commercial poultry, backyard poultry, game bird farms, wild birds, wild bird rehabilitation facilities, falconry birds, and captive bird collections in zoos and aviaries.
Recently, USDA and its partners released two updated interagency plans related to the surveillance of HPAI in wild birds. The first updated plan— U.S. Interagency Strategic Plan for Early Detection and Monitoring for Avian Influenzas of Significance in Wild Birds—describes a unified national system for migratory wild bird sampling involving Federal, State, university and non-governmental organizations. The second updated plan— 2015 Surveillance Plan for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Waterfowl in the United States— outlines the specific wild bird surveillance efforts for 2015-2016. Both plans were written by the Interagency Steering Committee for Surveillance for HPAI in Wild Birds. This committee is comprised of experts from USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services and Veterinary Services, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Flyway Council.
For more information, please contact NWRC@aphis.usda.gov.