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Experts warn that ‘no country can be considered safe’ from bird flu 

In the face of US decision to stockpile bird flu vaccine, expert warns that “no country can be considered as safe” from infection

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has announced the decision to stockpile several hundred million doses of avian influenza vaccine, including a Ceva vaccine (Vectormune® AI) as one of the two selected. This follows the destruction of nearly 50 million domestic poultry birds already this year, due to outbreaks occurring across 15 states.

These outbreaks throughout 2015 represent the worst large local outbreak of highly pathogenic AI ever in the US and despite the outbreak seemingly now under control, there are fears that AI could reappear this autumn following outbreaks across 31 countries already in 2015.

Recent changes in the avian influenza virus itself are presenting an increased infection risk to more than just the US though. Dr Yannick Gardin, Director of Science and Innovation at Ceva and internationally renowned avian influenza expert explains: "The changeable nature of the AI virus means that it is now able to survive for long periods of time in wildfowl (migratory birds). These birds are moving rapidly over huge distances and constantly mixing with other birds, which means that epizootics of unpredictable importance can now erupt in many areas across the globe, and no longer stay exclusively locally endemic.” 

“Many dogmas have grown up surrounding the control of AI. Countries who decided to vaccinate were viewed as ‘bad’ because they were seen to have a problem with the disease. This is no longer appropriate though and no country can be considered as safe. For this reason, preventative health strategies, such as vaccination programmes and biosecurity, should be implemented to take account of this” Dr Gardin continues.

To date, 2015 has seen 357 individual outbreaks of avian influenza reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health, which is a staggering 147% increase on outbreaks reported in 2014. In the US, the mass cull of birds, is estimated by the USDA to have cost more than $500 million.   

Dr Mark Davidson, Associate Deputy Administrator of the National Import Export Services at the United States Department of Agriculture stated recently at a world poultry congress that: “We have taken tremendous effort to prepare for this fall, on the potential that there may be additional introductions (of AI) as the migratory birds come back from the north.” He continued, “We will be prepared to vaccinate if necessary.”

While APHIS has not approved the use of vaccine to respond to AI, this stockpiling shows that the Agency is preparing to ensure that vaccine is available should the decision be made to use it during a future outbreak.

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