Moderator: Rodney Bain
April 22, 2015
11:00 am EDT
Coordinator: Good day and welcome to today’s live broadcast from the USDA Radio Studios in Washington D.C. featuring USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. John Clifford, as well as Dr. Alicia Fry of the Centers for Disease Control, and Dr. David Swayne of the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory also with USDA.
Reporters and members of the media wishing to ask a question of our guests after the opening remarks, you can do so, please press star 1 on your telephone touchtone pad. It’s now my pleasure to introduce USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. John Clifford.
Dr. John Clifford: Thank you very much. And thanks everyone for being on the call today. As you all know we’ve been dealing with the Avian Influenza, Highly Pathogenic AI. And we refer to it as High Path AI because frankly it kills turkeys and chickens.
So one of the things we’d like to tell you all today is that we’ve had very good success in being able to address these things once we’ve been able to find and locate these outbreak situations. So that we’ve been able to contain a lateral spread from these types of locations as well.
One of the challenging things that we have is though because of the contamination – environmental contamination of this virus from wild water fowl it presents a lot of unique challenges to us with regard to this. But the U.S. has one of the best in the world surveillance systems for High Path AI and for Low Path AI for that matter. And as a result we’ve been able to get very good cooperation from the states and the industry to be able to find these locations very quickly and be able to respond.
And I would definitely as a part of this wanted to thank all the support that we’ve gotten from our state animal health officials, as well as from the poultry industry and producers themselves. I know this can be very devastating to them but they’ve been very cooperative and it’s been a good relationship together.
And I also wanted to thank the support we’ve gotten from our guests here today as well; from Dr. Alicia Fry and the work of CDC with this, as well as Dr. David Swayne who is the Director of the USDA’s Southeastern Poultry Lab.
So with that I’d like to next turn it over to Dr. Alicia Fry to make some opening comments.
Dr. Alicia Fry: Good morning. Thank you for having me on today to discuss the human health implications of current domestic outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic H5 viruses in U.S. birds and poultry.
First let me start by saying that the Avian H5 viruses that have been found in U.S. wild birds and commercial poultry are different from the ones that we’ve been following around the world for several years now. These specific viruses have not caused infections in people anywhere in the world. CDC considers that the risk to the general public from these outbreaks to be low at this time.
That said, human infections with similar avian influenza viruses have occurred and it is possible that we may see human infections with the viruses associated with recent U.S. bird flu outbreaks. Most human infections with avian influenza viruses have occurred in people with direct or close and prolonged contact with infected birds.
While we are cautiously optimistic that there will not be human cases, we must be prepared for that possibility and we are taking routine preparedness steps, including studying these viruses further and creating candidate vaccine viruses which could be used to make a vaccine for people if one were needed. Again, these are routine public health preparedness measures.
So far genetic analysis has not shown any of the markers that are known to be associated with increased severity of illness in people or an increased ability to be spread to people or spread among people — and that’s good news. But preparedness and protecting public health is our continued goal.
CDC is working closely with state and local health departments and our colleagues at USDA to minimize public health risk from these bird flu outbreaks. People in contact with known infected or possibly infected birds should take precautions to protect against infection. USDA has excellent public education resources on their Web site for poultry workers, hunters and bird enthusiasts.
For the general public; avoid wild birds and observe them only from a distance, avoid contact with domestic birds or poultry that appear ill or have died, and avoid contact with surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from wild or domestic birds. CDC has issued public health guidance for High Path AI H5 testing and preventative medication of people exposed to these viruses.
People who have had contact with infected birds should monitor their own health for possible symptoms, for example flu-like symptoms or conjunctivitis. People who have had contact with infected birds may also be given influenza antiviral drugs preventatively.
CDC has put up a Web site with information on Avian Influenza and with links to all our domestic H5 guidance documents. We are monitoring the situation closely. This is an evolving public health situation and information may change as time goes on and we will provide updated information as it becomes available.
The address for the CDC Web site is www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/H5. And questions from the public can be directed to 800-CDC-INFO or 800-232-4636. Thank you.
Dr. John Clifford: Thank you Dr. Fry. And now I’d like to turn it to Dr. David Swayne to make some opening comments. David?
Dr. David Swayne: Thank you Dr. Clifford. I represent the Southeast Poultry Research Lab which is USDA’s agricultural research service in-house lab that conducts research on Avian Influenza. And we provide this research support not only to USDA APHIS, the regulatory agency for Disease Control, but also we provide research data to the states that may be affected, as well as the U.S. poultry industries.
Currently our research has been focused on developing specific molecular tests to detect this new strain of H5 High Path Avian Influenza. And we have made our test development and validation, have transferred that to our national Vet Services laboratories and on to the State Laboratory Diagnostic Network System. Now we’ve also developed a molecular test to detect the innate type of the virus, and that also has been transferred.
We have several ongoing studies that examine the different outbreak viruses to determine how they are transmitted from bird to bird, as well as which species of poultry, or potentially wild birds, can be affected by these viruses and what the potential outcomes are.
We also have, as part of our research portfolio, vaccine development which is a routine process for us. Now this type of research we do with all High Path AI viruses from around the world, which is part of our mandate, not only as a USDA lab, but also as a world organization for animal health collaborating center on research for emerging avian diseases.
Now I’ll pass it back to you Dr. Clifford.
Dr. John Clifford: Thank you Dr. Swayne.
Coordinator: And thank you. And we are open for questions, so reporters and members of the media this reminder, if you do have a question for any of our guests, Dr. John Clifford, USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Alicia Fry from the Centers for Disease Control, or Dr. David Swayne of USDA’s Southeast Poultry Research Lab, then press star 1 on your telephone touchtone pad.
And we will go to the phone lines. Our first call today belongs to Blake McCoy of KARE. Blake, good day.
Blake McCoy: Hi. I understand the USDA is working on a potential vaccine for this current strain of the virus. Where does that stand?
Dr. John Clifford: I think, Dr. Swayne do you want to respond to that please?
Dr. David Swayne: Yes. I mean our laboratory, which does the original vaccine development work, we are working on a potential vaccine strain that can be used as an inactivated vaccine. And we’re making progress on that. It’s a multi-step process that involves completion of one step, evaluating the information, then going back to additional steps.
So at this point we have a potential seed strain. But once we complete our work, which will include testing in chickens and turkeys, the decision to use that vaccine will only be made if it’s necessary in the regulatory process of the eradication.
So our work is only on the front end just to say, “Do we have available tools like vaccines to be used,” but the process of using vaccines will only be decided by the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service in consultation with the state labs.
Coordinator: We now go back to the phone lines. Our next call belongs to P.J. Huffstutter of Reuters News. P.J., good morning.
P.J. Huffstutter: Hi, good morning. This message is actually for Dr. Fry. I just had a quick question with regards to the scale of the outbreak. Is the – given that the outbreak has definitely been spreading at this point, is there any indication that we may be more likely to see the potential for a human infection just because there’s been the potential for more people exposed to the virus or no?
Dr. Alicia Fry: Well right now from everything we know it seems like the risk for human infection is very low. But you’re right, we’re really at the beginning of this and so we’re monitoring very closely. And we’re cautiously optimistic that we will not see any human cases, but there certainly is a possibility that we may.
Coordinator: USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer is with us here in the USDA Radio Studios, joining us on the phone lines Dr. Alicia Fry of the Centers of Disease Control and Dr. David Swayne of the Southeast Poultry Research Lab, and of course you in the listening audience. And reporters and members of the media, if you have a question for any of our guests please press star 1 on your telephone touchtone pad.
We go back to the phone lines. Our next call belongs to Steve Karnowski of the Associated Press. Steve, good morning.
Steve Karnowski: Good morning. Yes, this is for Dr. Fry. You had talked a little bit, and did I understand you correctly that as a precaution you have begun some preliminary work in case it becomes necessary to develop a human vaccine for this. Could you elaborate on that?
Dr. Alicia Fry: Well this is something that we do with any new influenza virus; we actually prepare seed vaccine viruses. We look for candidate vaccine viruses. We haven’t made any – we haven’t decided if we need to move to the next step. But for every new virus we actually pull it into CDC and we start to create candidate vaccine viruses.
We haven’t gotten further than that at this point because we don’t have a need to go further than that. But this is what we do. We have a large library of candidate vaccine viruses for different new avian influenza viruses that are detected around the world. And this is one of the reasons why we do surveillance so that we have these candidate viruses available.
Coordinator: Our next question belongs to (Mark Steele) of Minnesota Public Radio News. (Mark), good morning.
(Mark Steele): Good morning. I’m just wondering, on the USDA Web site the last test that showed the virus in a wild bird was over a month ago and I’m just wondering what you make of that? Is that raising concern or possibly any alternate theories on how the disease is being spread?
Dr. John Clifford: This is Dr. Clifford. Basically it doesn’t really concern us from the standpoint of just finding the virus in a wild bird a month ago. We know that the virus exists in the wild bird population, the wild water fowl. So I think you still have to be very diligent in your biosecurity and making sure that you have the possibility of having virus contamination within the environment. And you take all those precautions based on that.
As far as the way the virus is getting into the facilities itself, we’re looking at a multitude of possibilities with regard to that. We know that we’ve had very good biosecurity in the past to prevent introductions of High Path AI into our poultry operations but we’re reviewing all of those. And as we review them, I know that the industry, if we find gaps, the industry is taking those very, very seriously and implementing new ways to address those gaps as soon as possible.
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