Bird flu losses mount as U.S., Mexico, Canada sign historic pact to control outbreaks

More than 400,000 turkeys and chickens in Dubois County, IN, have been euthanized due to an outbreak of the H7N8 avian influenza virus on 10 farms there, as animal health officials work to contain the spread of the illness. Meanwhile, the three North American nations are banding together to improve coordination efforts for detecting and responding to outbreaks of avian influenza.

The casualties in Indiana include 10 flocks of turkeys that tested positive for H7N8, according to the Washington Times Herald. State health officials have been unable to determine the original source of the virus, which is different from the H5N2 virus that caused the loss of 48 million birds on commercial poultry farms last year. Still, they're implementing tough biosecurity measures, including widespread testing of birds and decontamination of farm workers, the paper says.

So far the state is not restricting any movement of poultry, however. "We are testing everything in the affected area and before it can move it has to test negative," said Denise Derrer of the Indiana Board of Animal Health in an interview with the Times Herald. Poultry farming represents a $2.5 million industry in Indiana, making the crisis all the more important to contain.

Meanwhile, officials in other states are expressing worries about preparedness for another outbreak. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey has asked state legislators for an extra $500,000 to prepare for the worst-case scenario, according to Radio Iowa.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and state officials have been bracing for a possible second outbreak of avian influenza since last year's spread of the H5N2 virus. Now U.S. officials are turning to neighbors to the south and north for backup. On January 19, the U.S., Mexico and Canada signed a letter of understanding, announcing that they have agreed to work together to improve the detection of avian influenza and to "harmonize" procedures for responding to outbreaks, according to a press release from the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC).

Under the agreement, the three countries will create a working group made up of animal health experts and poultry industry representatives, who will meet regularly to discuss avian influenza and any recommendations made for containing it by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), according to the release. The group will not only trade information on containment measures being practiced, but it will also discuss the risks posed by migratory birds that may be contributing to the spread of emerging viruses.

Canada and Mexico "account for more than two-thirds of all U.S. turkey exports, nearly two-thirds of our egg trade, and a third of our broiler exports--an annual value of almost $2 billion," said Jim Sumner, president of the USAPEEC, in the release. "We're hopeful that this agreement will be an important tool to provide our industries an adequate level of protection from poultry diseases while minimizing any impact on trade."

- here's the release from USAPEEC (PDF)
- get more at the Times Herald
- here's the Radio Iowa story