WASHINGTON, Sept. 2, 2015 - A new monitoring program overseen by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is up and running, and officials will use it to keep an eye on the potential spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) this fall.

The plan is an interagency effort to collect samples from wildfowl to see if the disease is present in “apparently healthy birds,” primarily dabbling ducks like the American black duck, American green-winged teal, mallard, and Northern pintail. Samples are being obtained mostly through live capture or hunter-harvested birds, but samples are also being taken from other waterfowl as well as any dead birds that come to researchers’ attention. 

John Baroch, a wildlife disease biologist with APHIS’ Wildlife Services, said since July 1, the program has collected about 6,500 samples, none of which tested positive for HPAI. According to a release last month, researchers aim to gather about 41,000 samples.

“We’re already taking samples in 43 states, and we’re going to ramp that up here to probably 49 states over the next few weeks as the hunter-harvest season begins,” Baroch said.

The testing is being done on wild birds because they are thought to be responsible for spreading the disease responsible for the death of over 48 million chickens and turkeys between December 2014 and this June. Iowa and Minnesota were hit especially hard, as the two states combined for just over 40 million deaths -- almost 85 percent of the losses – either through direct infection, or euthanization.

The disease has not been found to pose a risk to human health, but experts are concerned another wave of infections could hit the poultry industry again this autumn when migratory flocks that could be carrying the disease head south. HPAI also spreads more easily in colder temperatures.


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