Cooperative agreement to enhance avian flu response

Iowa State veterinarians will use $1m cooperative agreement to help strengthen avian influenza response.

An Iowa State University center has received a $1 million federal cooperative agreement to enhance preparedness for future outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza, such as the 2015 crisis that forced U.S. egg and poultry producers to eliminate millions of birds.

The cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service and the Center for Food Security & Public Health within Iowa State's College of Veterinary Medicine will allow researchers to analyze the 2015 outbreak and formulate new policies based on lessons learned, according to James Roth, the Clarence Hartley Covault distinguished professor of veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine.

Roth, who is also director of the Center for Food Security & Public Health, said the center will revise training materials for egg and poultry producers regarding how to take samples and monitor potential outbreaks among their flocks. The center also will update and maintain USDA’s disease response plan documents, including procedural and reference guides, in consultation with USDA, state and industry officials.

“An effective response to highly pathogenic avian influenza is essential to Iowa agriculture and the Iowa economy in general,” Roth said. “It’s imperative that plans and procedures, based on what we learned from the 2015 outbreak, are in place prior to the next outbreak.”

Iowa is the number-one producer of eggs in the U.S. and also produces a significant number of turkeys. The 2015 avian influenza outbreak sent shockwaves through the egg and poultry industries, particularly in Iowa and Minnesota.

Roth said the biosecurity procedures in place at the time fell short of what was necessary to contain the spread of the virus. He said the new materials under development by the Center for Food Security & Public Health will emphasize biosecurity. He also said the new guidelines will account for the potential for avian influenza strains to be zoonotic, i.e., transferable from animals to humans. The 2015 strain was not zoonotic, but Roth said there’s no guarantee that future outbreaks will follow suit.

The center has worked on highly pathogenic animal disease preparedness since 2008, Roth said. The center also is formulating response plans for potential outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, a highly contagious viral disease affecting swine and cattle that hasn’t been detected in the U.S. since 1929.

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