Avian Influenza Surveillance

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The USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) serves on the U.S. Interagency Steering Committee for Surveillance for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Wild Birds to standardize surveillance for this disease and is a leading partner in conducting morbidity and mortality investigations in support of the Interagency Strategic Plan for Early Detection and Monitoring for Avian Influenzas of Significance in Wild Birds. The NWHC also serves as an affiliate member of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) to standardize diagnostic testing for this disease and collaborates with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratory on diagnostic testing of samples collected from wild birds for avian influenza surveillance.

The NWHC conducts surveillance to facilitate early detection for high consequence pathogens such as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) viruses. In December 2014, the NWHC detected HPAI viruses with of Asian origin in wild waterfowl. By the end of 2015 HPAI had resulted in the death and culling of over 50 million poultry, resulting in economy-wide losses of over $3 billion. 

Avian influenza sample

Avian influenza among wild waterfowl is a concern among resource managers and owners of domestic fowl. The scientists take a sample to process at the lab. (Credit: Erika Sanchez-Chopitea, U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center. Public domain)

In addition to conducting ongoing investigations of unusual wildlife mortality events since the 1970s, the NWHC also conducts ongoing work to understand processes and environmental factors that influence spread, distribution, and mechanisms of transfer of HPAI in wild birds and poultry. For example, in 2016, the NWHC, as an affiliate member of the NAHLN, tested over 700 wild-bird carcasses and over 7,000 swab samples from healthy wild birds for presence of avian influenza viruses. While HPAI was not detected in any of these samples, over 1,300 low pathogenicity avian influenza viruses were identified, providing critical information to wildlife and agricultural officials on the spatial distribution and strains of avian influenza viruses circulating in our nation’s wildlife. The surveillance activities conducted by the NWHC provides needed information on which avian influenza strains are circulating in the U.S. to provide situational awareness and early warning for the need for increased biosecurity at poultry facilities to prevent spillover of viruses between domestic and wild birds.

In 2017 and 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and state agencies conducted surveillance efforts including sampling and testing over 30,000 ducks across the U.S. for avian influenza viruses and detected no highly pathogenic strains. This effort included 7,713 samples from the Atlantic Flyway states. The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative has also been performing HPAI surveillance with no HPAI virus detections in 2017.  Surveillance efforts for HPAI virus in wild birds are ongoing and continue to remain a priority at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center.


More Information on Avian Influenza

Avian influenza is a viral disease caused by various strains of avian influenza viruses that can be classified as low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) or highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).  It remains a global disease with potential high consequence with the potential to threaten wildlife, agriculture, and human health.  Check out the main Avian Influenza page to learn more.