New Web tool tracks H5N1 testing of US wild birds

Aug 25, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The US government announced yesterday the launch of a Web site that allows the public to view current information about testing of wild birds for H5N1 avian influenza.

The site, available at, is part of a database and Web application housed at the US Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., according to a press release yesterday from the USGS. The Web application, called HEDDS (Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Early Detection Data System), allows scientists to share information on sample collection sites, bird species sampled, and test results.

"HEDDS provides a critical comprehensive view of national sampling efforts at a time when the demand for this type of information is increasing, along with the growing interest in HPAI surveillance efforts in wild birds," said project leader Joshua Dein, VMD, MS, of the USGS Wildlife Health Center.

The national wild-bird surveillance plan, released in March 2006, is part of US efforts to prepare for a potential flu pandemic. The plan includes five strategies for early detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza. Sample numbers from three of these will be available on HEDDS: live wild birds, subsistence hunter-killed birds, and investigations of sick and dead wild birds. The other two strategies involve domestic bird testing and environmental sampling of water and wild-bird droppings.

Agencies, organizations, and policymakers involved in avian flu monitoring and response can access the database. Scientists can use the data to assess risk and refine monitoring strategies if H5N1 avian flu is detected in the United States. Public access is more limited but includes a map showing the number of samples collected in each state.

The 2006 surveillance year runs from April 1, 2006, to March 31, 2007. So far this year, 9,590 wild-bird samples have been entered into HEDDS. No cases of H5N1 have been detected. Most of the samples are from Alaska because it is the first US stopover for birds from Asia and other continents where the H5N1 virus is present. Federal officials announced on Aug 9 that surveillance efforts had expanded to the lower 48 states, Hawaii, and other Pacific islands.

A map on the new USGS site shows that 9,327 birds from Alaska have been tested so far this year, with only a few from most other states.  Last year officials tested just 721 birds from Alaska and none from most other states, another map shows.

The goal of the surveillance program for 2006 is to collect 75,000 to 100,000 samples from wild birds and 50,000 environmental samples, officials have said.

HEDDS was produced by the National Biological Information Infrastructure Wildlife Disease Information Node, part of the USGS National Wildlife Center. Several agencies are financially supporting the system, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the USGS, and the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Participants include state wildlife agencies, universities, and nongovernmental organizations.

See also:

Aug 24 USGS press release on Web site tracking H5N1 testing of wild birds

Aug 9 CIDRAP News story "US's wild bird H5N1 monitoring expands beyond Alaska"

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