OSU Vet Lab Monitoring Bird Flocks for Avian Flu
By STEPHEN SWANSON
OSU News Service
CORVALLIS -- Oregon State University's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is responding to the challenge of monitoring the region's domestic bird flocks for strains of highly pathogenic avian flu and, so far, all tests are negative.
"Last year, we looked at about 50 dead birds," said Rocky Baker, Virology Laboratory supervisor in OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine. But that figure could rise significantly this year, he added, as federal, state and local officials look at ramping up surveillance efforts in the fight against bird flu.
Samples currently come from commercial poultry growers who notice abnormal deaths within their flocks, as well as non-commercial backyard flocks, Baker said.
While attention is focused on the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu that is generating worries of a worldwide pandemic, the OSU laboratory tests for all highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza as well as other diseases that could decimate agriculture or have an impact on human health, Baker said.
"If someone has a bird that dies, while they can have it tested for avian influenza, to really be complete, they should have a necropsy by an OSU pathologist," Baker pointed out. "After all, it may not be the avian influenza virus."
Anthrax, West Nile virus, hanta virus and a host of other dangerous pathogens are among the threats OSU scientists search for in the wide range of samples submitted to the laboratory by state, federal and local health officials.
The university's College of Veterinary Medicine was drafted into the forefront of homeland security last year with it's induction into the national Animal Health Laboratory Network, said Jerry Heidel, director of OSU's Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.
With primary testing responsibilities falling to the diagnostic laboratory, OSU's College of Veterinary medicine will be on the frontline in the event of an outbreak of any animal disease in the Pacific Northwest, whether it's avian flu, exotic Newcastle disease or some other threat, Heidel said.
"Oregon is very much ready to respond to the challenge," Heidel said. "The National Animal Health Laboratory Network incorporates federal, state, and local resources in a response to animal health emergencies, including foreign animal diseases, emerging diseases such as avian flu, and bioterrorist events."
"In regards to avian flu, the commercial poultry industry in Oregon is pretty biosecure," Baker said. "The biggest threat to this disease spreading from wild birds such as ducks is from the small outdoor, or backyard flocks."
Baker said it wouldn't be difficult for wild birds, attracted by grain or shelter to mix with outdoor domestic flocks on small farms or in suburban backyards.
"In Oregon, surveillance will certainly be concentrating on the non-commercial backyard flocks," Baker said. "We need to prepare and we need to be ready for testing of large amounts of birds if avian flu gets into our poultry population. All safeguards are very important."