Outbreaks of avian influenza A occur among U.S. poultry flocks from time to time. Since early February 2004, avian influenza outbreaks have been reported in several locations in the United States, most recently in Texas in 2004 when a highly pathogenic H5N2 strain was discovered at a poultry facility in Gonzales County.

Dr. Marty Ficken, resident director of the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in Gonzales, says avian influenza viruses typically do not infect humans; however, several instances of human infections and outbreaks of avian influenza have been reported since 1997. It is believed that most cases of avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces. Other means of transmission also are possible, such as the virus becoming aerosolized and landing on exposed surfaces of the mouth, nose, or eyes, or being inhaled into the lungs.

“There is the potential for these types of viruses to spread to the human population but they usually do not cause a disease of consequence. Unlike many viruses, human infections of avian A type are generally limited to mild flu-like symptoms,” he said.

He says the threat of this outbreak reaching Texas and New Mexico is very low, citing USDA import requirements and border inspections as adequate defense. But he suggests transmission could be possible by the illegal import of live poultry or egg shells contaminated with the pathogen.

All poultry imported from all countries except Canada must be quarantined for at least 30 days at a USDA Animal Import Center and be accompanied by import permits and veterinary health certificates. Canadian poultry entering the United States must be accompanied by a veterinary health certificate issued within 30 days of import date.