A&M Preps for Bird Flu

Texas A&M University is preparing for a potential bird flu pandemic.

Students, veterinarians, researchers and farmers received hands-on training Thursday on how to test and detect the H5N1 strain in birds and poultry.

"We need to prepare for adequate response," said Dr. Carol Cardona, DVM, of the University of California, Davis. "When we have those adequate responses prepared for, we can minimize the impacts."

Cardona is also a spokesperson on avian influenza for the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense and travels across the country teaching courses similar to the one at Texas A&M.

"The bad bird flu has not made its way to the United States, and with any luck it won't come here," said Cardona.

The H5N1 is a highly pathogenic strain, which has not yet been detected in the US. However, it could be imported by migrating wild birds.

While their movement can't be controlled, the U.S. is doing extensive surveillance work.

"In addition, our government is preventing the movement of birds, slaughtered birds or bird meat from coming from countries that have the H5N1 virus," said Cardona.

The strain has already been detected in about 50 countries, according to the World Health Organization. To date, human cases have been reported in 10 countries, most of which are in Asia.

The WHO reports that avian influenza has killed 144 people worldwide. That's why students at Texas A&M are learning that early detection is crucial.

"You can never prevent it completely, but you can try to learn to react to situations," said College of Veterinary Medicine graduate student Blair Telg.

And while it is important to be prepared, Dr. Cordona said the general public shouldn't panic.

"It's infected very, very few humans, so the risk of that happening is very, very low," she said.