Apr 12, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The spread of avian flu to the United States probably would not have the same impact it has had in less developed countries, according to the US government's top infectious-disease official.
"The surveillance is going to be so intense that it is very unlikely that there is going to be the type of situation we see everywhere from Nigeria to Indonesia," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), as quoted in an Associated Press (AP) story today.
American poultry farmers keep birds isolated, reducing the potential for them to have contact with wild birds, Fauci said. In addition, Americans generally have less contact with poultry or their droppings. Backyard poultry is far less common in the United States than in many of the countries battling avian flu, such as Indonesia.
Fauci likened the US poultry system's security to that in Europe. In Western Europe, H5N1-positive wild birds have been found in multiple countries over several months, but the virus has struck only a couple of poultry farms—one in France and one Germany.
In the United States, Fauci told the AP, "It won't be what you see in countries in which there is no regulation, in which there is no incentive to compensate farmers, in which the people, who are so poor, when they see their chickens are getting infected they immediately sell them or they don't tell anybody because they don't want them culled."
American authorities recently unveiled a surveillance plan that includes systematic monitoring of wild birds. They expect to collect 75,000 to 100,000 samples for testing this year, mostly on the West Coast and in Alaska.
Fauci also said the avian flu virus is not likely to change very quickly into a form that it can spread quickly from person to person, potentially sparking a pandemic, according to the AP. Acquiring this ability will require a series of genetic changes, which could make the virus less virulent, he said.
"It is entirely conceivable that this virus is inherently programmed that it will never be able to go efficiently from human to human," Fauci was quoted as saying. "Hopefully the epidemic (in birds) will burn itself out, which epidemics do, before the virus evolves the capability of being more efficient in going from human to human."
Nevertheless, Fauci advocated personal preparedness, suggesting that people stock up on canned food and water, as they would for a hurricane or other storm, the AP reported.