09 Mar Metabiota Experts Weigh in on What First U.S. Case of Avian Influenza Means for the Public
In early March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the detection of highly pathogenic H7N9 avian influenza (HPAI H7N9) at a Tennessee farm. The farm, which contracts to Tyson Foods, has culled the nearly 74-thousand birds to stop the virus from spreading. Moreover, surveillance and control zones have been established around the affected facility; the control zone includes areas within neighboring Alabama, a major producer of broilers.
On 16 March, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced a second outbreak of HPAI H7N9 in Tennessee, also in a commercial breeder flock comprising 55,000 chickens. Depopulation is now underway at this facility, and surveillance and testing are being carried out within a 10km radius of the facility.
In response to the Tennessee outbreaks, neighboring Alabama’s Department of Agriculture has prohibited poultry exhibitions and assembly of poultry for purposes of sale; this order applies to swap meets, county fairs, festivals, and live bird markets. This order does not apply to commercial farms.
This has been a particularly active flu season for avian influenzas in the Northern Hemisphere with implications for animal and human health. European poultry producers have been impacted by the circulation of multiple avian influenza viruses, resulting in economic losses throughout the region.
The risk of human infection in poultry outbreaks is generally low, though the potential for an emergent influenza strain becoming more transmissible between humans is a targeted area of monitoring for public health agencies. The CDC has assessed the risk to the public from the North American H7N9 outbreak in commercial poultry to be low.
China has been battling an outbreak of low pathogenic H7N9 avian influenza (LPAI H7N9) in chickens; this LPAI virus has resulted in the deaths of nearly 500 people since February 2013. The virus identified in Tennessee is not related to the Chinese LPAI virus, but is of North American wild bird lineage.
Over the last decade, we have seen an increased global intensification of livestock production due to the growing worldwide demand for animal protein. The rising totals and density of animals being raised together, as Metabiota first reported in December, puts them at increased risk for infectious disease outbreaks. It is likely that events similar to the HPAI outbreak currently being seen in Tennessee will only increase in frequency in the future.
Like the event in Tennessee, avian influenza outbreaks have led to large-scale slaughter of poultry in affected countries, resulting in catastrophic losses for the food industry. In 2014 and 2015, during a widespread outbreak of HPAI, the United States killed nearly 50 million birds, resulting in record highs of U.S. egg prices and prompting trading partners to ban imports of American poultry.
“This virus emerging in a U.S. poultry facility is an unfortunate, yet anticipated outcome based on how we’ve seen animal diseases spread in recent years,” said Dr. Eddy Rubin, chief science officer at Metabiota.
Infectious disease outbreaks in humans and livestock are not one-off events, and in fact, they illustrate distinct patterns like other natural catastrophes. As such, these events can be insured so that resources, financing and other infrastructure can offset the impact to countries and industries.
Metabiota has developed a groundbreaking method to quantify and manage the risk associated with these events. Leveraging unique expertise from Metabiota’s team of global scientists, with advanced computational risk analytics and an innovative 100-year historical disease database, Metabiota is helping insurers to estimate losses and underwrite policies to make their clients more resilient. Metabiota’s products determine the frequency and severity of epidemic exposure, so that the global community can be better prepared to address and minimize these outbreaks in the future.
Metabiota is continuing to monitor this outbreak – for additional insights and ongoing perspective, visit http://metabiota.com/news/