WASHINGTON – The fall migration of wild birds could bring on another deadly outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). But the US Dept. of Agriculture has a plan gleaned from lessons learned during the most recent outbreak of HPAI that resulted in culls of 7.5 million turkeys and 42.1 million layer hens and pullets.

A reprieve in HPAI detections gave USDA and its partners the opportunity to enhance outbreak prevention efforts. USDA’s “Fall 2015 HPAI Preparedness and Response Plan” is based on a worst-case scenario where multiple, nationwide outbreaks occur simultaneously in different sectors of the US poultry industry. USDA and its partners have been preparing for a possible re-emergence of HPAI in the Atlantic Flyway by migrating ducks.

“Throughout the experience, we have altered and improved our response capabilities and processes in real time to provide the most effective services possible,” said in the document. “We collected scientific data on the field viruses and from affected premises. We listened to producers, our state partners, academia, our responders, and other stakeholders to identify additional means for improvement and to be better prepared should cases return in the future. This plan reflects that learning experience.”

The plan includes:

• Promoting improved on-farm biosecurity practices in order to prevent future HPAI cases to the greatest extent possible;

• Improving HPAI surveillance in wild birds as a means to provide “early warning” risk information to states and industry;

• Expanding Federal, state and industry response capabilities, including availability of personnel, equipment, and depopulation, disposal and recovery options;

• Improving USDA’s capabilities to rapidly detect HPAI in domestic poultry and to depopulate affected flocks within 24 hours to reduce the environmental load of HPAI viruses and subsequent spread;

• Streamlining the processes for payment of indemnity and the cost of eliminating viruses so that producers receive a fair amount quickly, to assist them in returning to production;

• Enhancing our ability to communicate in a timely and effective way with producers, consumers, legislators, media, and others regarding outbreaks and other information; and

• Preparing to identify and deploy effective AI vaccines should they be a cost beneficial addition to the eradication efforts in a future HPAI outbreak.

USDA identified the last case of HPAI in June. The economic impact of the outbreak cost US taxpayers more than $950 million, the agency reported.