Sunday, June 25, 2006

Preparations for possible avian influenza

USDA's inspector general last week called on the department to enhance its plan for responding to a potential outbreak of avian influenza. The poultry industry currently performs voluntary testing of its flocks, but the inspector general's new report (.pdf) recommended improved oversight of "live bird" markets and stronger preparations for providing vaccines to people who would have to respond to an outbreak.

The Department agreed that the inspector general's report provided an accurate view of its capabilities at the time of the audit. Congress has allocated $91 million in new funding for avian influenza work, so readiness may improve.

In contrast with "Mad Cow Disease," the quality of the industry's voluntary testing system may not be a critical policy issue in the case of avian influenza. A New York Times article about the USDA inspector general's report noted (link from Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy):
Poultry experts said in January that if the lethal flu strain arrived in American domestic poultry, complicated tests would not be needed to spot it. Unlike other bird flus, the A(H5N1) strain, which has killed millions of chickens and 130 people since 2003, can wipe out a flock of thousands in 24 hours.
To monitor avian influenza issues, I frequently read the weblog Effect Measure, which has a new address.