The Colorado Avian Disease Surveillance Program has developed avian flu sample collection kits available for the first time to professionals such as veterinarians and animal control officers to collect samples from birds to test for the deadly H5N1 strain.
The program, which is housed in Colorado State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, will use the kits to enhance the state’s current testing for the disease. Avian disease surveillance professionals must currently travel across the state to collect testing samples from birds for flu.
Samples obtained with the kits will be sent back to the university’s laboratory for testing for the disease. The kits must be administered by a trained professional to be accurate, so they are not available to the general public. The state’s avian disease professionals also will offer training to professionals to administer the tests.
The kits are funded by the Colorado Avian Disease Surveillance Program, a partnership among the university’s diagnostic laboratory, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Professionals can order a free test kit by calling Dr. Kristy Pabilonia, coordinator of the Colorado Avian Disease Surveillance Program, at 970-297-4109 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Individuals who want to request that their domestic birds be tested for avian flu should contact Pabilonia. Individuals who want to report a dead bird should call the Colorado Help Line at 877-462-2911.
"Colorado’s surveillance program has tested more than 1,600 birds to date for avian influenza," said Pabilonia, avian disease diagnostic veterinarian at Colorado State’s laboratory. "We test wild and domestic birds across the state for the disease, and have tested birds owned by individuals as pets or as a hobby and birds owned by commercial poultry producers."
The Colorado Division of Wildlife, part of the avian surveillance program in the state, collects samples from wild birds and works with the Colorado State University laboratory for testing.
While the current system is thorough, the kits have been developed to expand surveillance capabilities. This expansion is particularly important, said Pabilonia, because sampling birds at their location allows for improved biosecurity versus bringing birds to central testing sites.
"Getting statewide samples is an important part of Colorado State University’s testing and these sampling kits will be a tremendous help to their effort," said Keith Roehr, assistant state veterinarian with the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
The testing procedure for avian flu consists of obtaining mouth and cloacal swabs. The swabs, or samples, are sent to the Colorado State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory where they are tested based on a priority system. Tests can be run in as little as four hours in an emergency once the samples arrive at the laboratory, which is based at the university’s Veterinary Medical Center campus in Fort Collins.
The kits were developed to meet the anticipated demand to test what officials call backyard birds – small flocks or individual birds on farms or in homes or businesses in urban settings, including chickens, turkeys, waterfowl and game birds.
While domestic birds such as chickens and turkeys are common in rural areas, urban areas also house a large number of poultry. In fact, in the Denver area alone, it is estimated that hundreds of residents own chickens or similar birds are that raised and held in backyards
Infected birds may show symptoms of avian influenza, said Pabilonia. Birds that die suddenly without previously showing clinical signs or flocks with an increased number of deaths should be tested immediately. Birds that show clinical signs such as coughing, sneezing, paralysis, lethargy, a loss of coordination, decreased egg production or a purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs also should be tested immediately.
In addition to testing birds in small flocks, the state’s surveillance program randomly tests birds at events such as county fairs, bird shows and swaps and within flocks that have contact with the general public, such as at animal rescue organizations.
All birds are susceptible to different strains of avian influenza. Not all avian influenza strains are of concern to public health like H5N1 is currently.
Some species are much more likely to contract the illness than others. Waterfowl act as a reservoir for the disease, which means that they carry and spread the disease without always become ill or dying from it. Domestic poultry such as chickens and turkeys are what experts call indicators of the disease. In other words, the health and death rate of these birds indicates the presence of the disease in poultry because these birds show clinical signs of the flu and have a high death rate when infected with highly pathogenic strains of avian flu. Songbirds and other peri-domestic birds are less susceptible to the disease.
Colorado State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is a core facility in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network. The lab receives funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to test animals for diseases. The laboratory conducts tests for avian flu on samples from across Colorado and may begin testing samples from neighboring states.
More general information about the state’s avian surveillance system and specific information for bird owners, veterinarians and the public is available at www.coloradobirdhealth.org.