US enhances plan to detect entry of H5N1 virus
Washington, Mar 21: The United States has enhanced its strategy for detecting if a highly pathogenic avian influenza (bird flu) enters the country.
The interagency early detection strategy, announced yesterday by the Secretaries of Agriculture, Interior, and Health and Human services, identifies monitoring and testing wild birds entering the state of Alaska from eastern Asia and the Pacific as the highest priority.
The route, known as the Pacific Flyway, includes western Canada and the United States and continues down through Central and South America.
The United States then will address bird migration routes covering the central and eastern parts of the country, the Secretaries said.
The eastern route involves birds flying from Europe into Canada and then to the United States.
At a press briefing at the headquarters of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the officials said the United States also is coordinating with international agencies to track the spread of the highly pathogenic bird flu strain H5N1, which has spread to three continents but has not yet been detected in the Western Hemisphere.
The three officials agreed it is highly probable that H5N1 could be found in the United States in 2006. However, finding the highly pathogenic flu strain in birds in the United States ''doesn't signal the start of a (human) pandemic,'' USDA Secretary Mike Johanns said.
Early detection would give US agencies the opportunity to attempt to contain the virus within a geographic area and obtain samples necessary for developing a pandemic vaccine, according to a pandemic planning strategy issued on March 13 by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
The United States is working to communicate to countries around the world essential information for planning for and, ultimately, coping with a potential pandemic, according to DHHS.