Experts Say Precautions Key In Preventing Avian Flu

Theresia Lavergne, Reed, Donald P., Coolman, Denise  |  10/26/2005 1:55:14 AM

News Release Distributed 10/25/05

Although the latest strain of avian influenza, H5N1, has not been detected in the United States, an LSU AgCenter poultry specialist says bird owners should do all they can to protect their flocks.

"There is no treatment, so prevention is the key," stressed Dr. Theresia Lavergne of the LSU AgCenter’s Animal Science Department. "This strain of the flu has not been detected in the United States, and there has not been a highly pathogenic strain in the United States for more than 20 years – and that strain was eliminated."

Information from the Centers for Disease Control shows avian influenza, or bird flu, is an infection carried by birds. The CDC says bird flu viruses do not ordinarily affect humans – although officials point out there have been limited cases of human infection. The viruses are contagious among wild and domesticated birds.

The viruses are transmitted from bird to bird through direct contact with secretions, especially feces, from infected birds. The disease can also be transmitted if birds come in contact with contaminated feed, water, equipment and clothing. In addition, waterfowl and sea birds may introduce the virus to flocks, and broken contaminated eggs may infect chicks in an incubator.

Because there is no treatment for the virus in birds, Lavergne says poultry owners should take certain steps to ensure their flocks do not become contaminated.

Those steps include:

–Avoiding contact between poultry and wild birds, waterfowl in particular.

–Avoiding the introduction of birds of unknown disease status into a flock.

–Controlling human traffic in areas where poultry are kept.

–Following stringent cleaning and disinfecting procedures.

Lavergne also recommends using an "all-in, all-out" breeding program – where just one age group of poultry is found on a particular farm.

Although the disease has not been detected in Louisiana, Lavergne said poultry growers should constantly monitor their flocks for avian flu. She stresses that an outbreak of the disease could prove disastrous to Louisiana poultry growers, as well as growers across the United States.

In the event of an outbreak, Lavergne said it will be necessary to slaughter all birds in the infected flocks. It also will be necessary to dispose of all carcasses and all animal products, as well as cleaning and disinfecting the area.

"On top of that, should an outbreak occur, producers will have to allow at least 21 days to pass before restocking," Lavergne said.

With hunting season here, LSU AgCenter hunting safety specialist Dr. Don Reed said hunters also should use precautions when cleaning wild game.

"Migratory waterfowl, especially wild ducks, are natural reservoirs for many strains of the avian influenza virus," Reed said. "But they are very resistant to the infection, which means they seldom die from the disease.

"As a precaution, I would recommend that when cleaning and dressing any game animal, hunters should wear rubber gloves – and not just when cleaning ducks but any wild game including deer, rabbits and so on."

According to Reed, there are still questions as to how the virus is passed from animals to humans.

"But direct contact with infected animals, whether dead or alive, is the most likely transmission method," he said. "Wearing gloves when cleaning or dressing wild game is important to help cut down on the possibility of contracting any disease."

Avian influenza viruses do not usually infect humans, but several cases have occurred since 1997, Lavergne said. A total of 18 humans were infected with the H5N1 virus in Hong Kong in 1997. Six of these people died, she said.

In 2003, 83 cases of humans infected with avian influenza were reported in the Netherlands. One died because of the H7N7 strain.

Recent human cases of avian influenza also have been reported in Asia.

A report from the CDC shows symptoms of bird flu in humans have ranged from typical flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches, to eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases and other severe and life-threatening complications. The report goes on to state symptoms of bird flu may depend on which virus caused the infection.

Studies done in laboratories suggest the prescription medicines approved for human flu viruses should work in preventing bird flu in humans, but flu viruses can become resistant to these drugs – so these medications may not always work, the report states. Researchers with the CDC have said additional studies are needed to prove the effectiveness of these medicines.

Information from the World Health Organization shows the risk of a person developing bird flu generally is low because the viruses occur mainly among birds and do not usually infect humans. During an outbreak of bird flu among domesticated chickens, ducks and turkeys, however, there is a possible risk to people who have had contact with infected birds or surfaces that have been contaminated with excretions from infected birds, according to officials.

The World Health Organization cautions people to avoid contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces and to be careful when handling and cooking poultry.

For more information on this and other agriculture-related topics, as well as topics dealing with finances, health and a variety of other issues, go to www.lsuagcenter.com.

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Contacts:
Theresia Lavergne at (225) 578-2219 or tlavergne@agcenter.lsu.edu
Don Reed at (225) 683-5848 or dreed@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writer:
A. Denise Coolman at (318) 547-0921 or dcoolman@agcenter.lsu.edu

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