Bird Flu Monitoring Goes Nationwide

Two golden eagles are seen in Moscow Zoo during a mass vaccination campaign against bird flu in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 21, 2006. More than 1.2 million wild and domestic birds have been culled or died since an outbreak of bird flu in southern Russia last month. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky) AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

Monitoring of wild migratory birds to prevent a deadly bird flu virus is expanding to cover the entire nation and U.S. territories in the Pacific.

The stepped-up testing will be done by scientists in the lower 48 states, Hawaii and other Pacific islands. They will begin keeping an eye out for the deadly H5N1 strain of the avian flu that has killed more than 100 people, mostly in Asia.

In Alaska, where the first migratory birds began arriving, monitoring started just before summer.

"This move to test thousands more wild birds throughout the country will help us to quickly identify, respond and control the virus if it arrives in the United States," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Wednesday. "Because we cannot control wild birds, our best protection is an early warning system."

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said more coordinated monitoring by federal agencies, states and universities "will be important this fall as birds now nesting in Alaska and Canada begin their migration south through the continental United States."

The Agriculture and Interior departments are providing $4 million to state agencies to collect samples from specific species of migratory birds winging along four major U.S. migratory bird flyways. Congress budgeted $29 million for monitoring for the highly pathogenic strain of bird flu.

Feces or tissue samples from 75,000 to 100,000 wild birds will be collected, along with 50,000 samples of the water and ground that birds come into contact with. Locations where the samples will be collected will vary depending on weather and habitat conditions.

Likely sites include national and state wildlife refuges and parks, city ponds and parks, and private lands where owners have given approval.

While the much-talked-about H5N1 avian flu virus has yet to make an appearance on American soil, restaurants and other companies that rely on poultry sales are preparing for it, and for the impact it could have on their business.

Boston Market Corp. is developing and testing alternative menu items at its Golden headquarters.

Officials at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc. are prepared to substitute pictures of burgers for those of chicken sandwiches on the company's menus and signs.

Executives at Red Bird Farms Co. in Englewood have drafted a nine-point plan for communicating the safety of their product.

Since 2003, the virus has infected at least 231 people in 10 countries in Asia and the Middle East, killing 133. All have contracted the virus from direct contact with infected birds and not from the food supply.

Experts say the virus cannot survive in poultry that has been cooked to 165 degrees and that infected birds are exterminated before they even make it into the food supply.

Nonetheless, a survey of 1,043 adults released this year by the Harvard School of Public Health found that nearly half the respondents who eat chicken or other poultry said they would stop doing so if an outbreak occurred among U.S. flocks.

A similar crisis hit the U.S. beef industry in 2003, when bovine spongiform encephalopathy — better known as mad cow disease — was discovered in a cow in Washington.
  • Lloyd Vries

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