Florida Mosquito Control Association

Avian Influenza

Over the past few weeks there have been several questions about avian influenza and the sentinel chickens that are kept for arbovirus surveillance around the state. We've drafted the attached document to address these questions. DACS Bureau of Entomology and Pest Control has faxed this out to each mosquito control district and it has been e-mailed to each County Health Department Environmental Health Director. Please distribute this as you see fit, and let me know if you have any questions.

Message to Mosquito Control Districts on Avian Influenza

As the reality of detecting the highly pathogenic Asian H5N1 strain of avian influenza in the United States becomes clearer, several questions have been raised about the impact this disease will have on the sentinel chicken programs used for arbovirus surveillance throughout the state. We will attempt to clarify these issues here.

The Asian strain of influenza A (H5N1) is a highly pathogenic strain of influenza that can cause major morbidity and mortality in wild birds and poultry. H5N1 has caused illness in nearly 200 people, resulting in over 100 deaths in Asian and Middle Eastern countries since 2003. Most of the human cases have reported close contact with domestic poultry. At this point, the H5N1 virus is not easily transmitted from human to human, but experts worry that it may someday mutate into a form that is. For these reasons, many Florida agencies have been involved in planning efforts to develop a coordinated response should H5N1 be detected in the United States.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission monitors mortality in wild birds. Dead wild bird sightings should be reported on their website: www.myFWC.com/bird

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) Division of Animal Industry is monitoring commercial and backyard flocks of poultry for H5N1, these "sentinel birds" are different flocks than those used for arbovirus surveillance.

Currently, the chicken flocks maintained for arbovirus surveillance are not being used as sentinels for avian influenza. Should the opportunity arise for a collaboration with DACS involving the utilization of arbovirus sentinel chickens for avian influenza surveillance, the decision to participate in such an effort would be made locally by each mosquito control district. The Department of Health will not mandate that any or all districts participate, but will be available to answer questions about human health risks and provide additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) training, should it be needed.

It is very important that any clusters of high morbidity or mortality among flocks be reported to Jennifer Jennings-Glover, poultry manager for DACS, at (850) 251-1226. Dead birds can be submitted to the Kissimmee Diagnostic Laboratory, with no fee for testing or necropsy. Please contact Jennifer with any questions or concerns regarding the submission of samples for testing. Ill or dead birds should always be handled with caution. 

PPE guidelines for handling sentinel chickens can be found in the 2005 Guidebook on Surveillance and Control of Selected Arthropod-borne Diseases in Florida.  We are planning to include additional PPE guidelines in the 2006 Arbovirus Guidebook for people handling healthy chickens in the event the Asian H5N1 influenza strain is detected in the United States. The recommendations will indicate the use of disposable particular respiratory masks (N-95, N-99, or N-100). These are available at home improvement stores. In the event that H5N1 is detected in the United States prior to the issuance of these guidelines, the DOH will immediately disseminate recommendations for appropriate PPE use. It should be noted that personal hygiene measures, such as diligent hand-washing, have been shown to decrease the spread of this and other illnesses that can result from contact with chickens.

Thank you all for your collaborative efforts to reduce the spread of disease, arboviral and otherwise.

Rebecca Shultz, MPH                                     Carina Blackmore, DVM, PhD
Arbovirus Surveillance Coordinator                      State Public Health Veterinarian
Florida Department of Health                            Environmental Epidemiology Program Manager
4052 Bald Cypress Way, BIN A08                  Florida Department of Health
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1712                              4052 Bald Cypress Way Bin A08            
(850) 245-4444 ext. 2437                                Tallahassee, FL 32399-1712
SC 205-4444 ext. 2437                           (850) 245-4732, sc 205-4732
[email protected]                  [email protected]

Other informational websites:

FL Department of Health
Global Health Facts
NPR Watch on Bird Flu
CDC - Avian Flu
WHO - Avian Flu

© 2006 Florida Mosquito Control Association. All rights reserved.