By Dawn House
The Salt Lake Tribune
The wild card in preventing an outbreak of the deadly avian influenza in Utah's poultry flocks is bird migration.
On Wednesday, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food met with 25 state agencies, commercial producers and private entities to coordinate a plan for a worst-case scenario.
The plan emphasizes mandatory testing of birds at commercial poultry farms and a monitoring system that requires health certificates to be issued for every domestic bird brought into the state.
"I always say please cooperate because I don't want to play hard ball with you," said state veterinarian Michael Marshall. "And you won't want to play hard ball with me."
Marshall said no lethal strains have ever been detected in any migratory flyway over the United States. And no migratory bird or poultry in the United States were found to have the lethal avian influenza that caused the three 20th century pandemics. Those outbreaks were brought to U.S. soil by mutated viruses that had spread person-to-person.
Still, the state has a surveillance and response plan in the event that birds migrating over Utah could be infected with the deadly H5N1 virus. The fear is that the virus may mutate and infect humans, who could then spread it person-to-person.
The deadly strain was first detected in Asia eight years ago and has spread to Africa and Western Europe, causing the largest and most severe outbreak in overseas birds.
The resulting death or destruction of 200 million birds was the largest on record.
The World Health Organization said control of the disease is expected to take several years. Nearly all the human cases involved people exposed to sick flocks.
In the United States, there have been cases of low pathogen viruses in U.S. poultry, but there was no threat to food, and the virus was incapable of spreading to people, Terry Olsen said. Olsen is director of veterinary services at Moroni Feed Co., a cooperative that processes Utah's 5 million commercially grown turkeys raised by more than 60 independent producers.
In 1995, migrating waterfowl from Mexico mingled with flocks near Moroni, infecting turkeys with a mild flu strain, said Leonard Blackham, Utah commissioner of Agriculture and Food. About 500,000 turkeys died or were culled. No humans were infected.