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Hello and welcome. I’m Alexandra Tarrant with the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
With me I have Dr. Denise Eblen, a branch chief in the FSIS Risk Assessment Division.
This week we’re going to discuss the risk assessment work the Agency has done on
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza – HPAI for short.
Just to clarify – is the recently identified H1N1 strain – dubbed by the media as
“swine flu,” the same as HPAI?
We still have a lot to learn about the H1N1 virus – but I want to emphasize that
there’s no indication that H1N1 is foodborne at all. So HPAI and H1N1 are very
This risk assessment was completed way before the recent H1N1 outbreak.
So HPAI – this is bird flu right? Have there been any reported cases of poultry HPAI
outbreaks in the United States?
HPAI is the term for the most pathogenic – or dangerous – form of bird flu. And
thankfully it hasn’t surfaced in the United States.
In the last decade there have been poultry outbreaks in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the
Middle East, but none in the United States.
Any chance any of those countries are exporting birds to the United States?
Some of the countries with reported cases of HPAI outbreaks in poultry are exporting
birds to the United States. However, we have in place a very rigorous process of
preventing unsafe foods from entering our commerce. The chances of infected birds
entering the U.S. human food supply are extremely low.
OK, so in those countries where outbreaks have happened, were there any human cases?
In June 2008, the World Health Organization reported 385 confirmed HPAI virus human
illnesses, resulting in 243 deaths worldwide, from 2003-2008. As of December 16th,
2008, the countries affected include Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China,
Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Laos, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey,
How did people become infected?
The majority of these cases were from close contact with infected birds – either live
or dead. People were most likely infected by inhalation of infective droplets or
touching their own mucous membranes or conjunctiva. Other ways people could have
caught the virus include contact with avian feces or body fluids.
It’s important to make the point, though, that there is no recognized link between
human infections and the consumption of contaminated poultry, shell eggs, or egg
products that have been properly handled and cooked.
So why did FSIS decide to do this risk assessment? What was the scope?
We were asked to assess what would happen if poultry infected with HPAI got into the
food supply. We examined the risks associated with the consumption of contaminated
poultry and shell eggs, and egg products.
The “what-if” questions in the risk assessment were:
- What is the chance an HPAI virus-infected flock would be undetected on the farm and
be sent to slaughter? and
- What would be the impact on human health if an infected flock went to slaughter
And what was the predicted impact of HPAI on human illnesses?
Well, first of all - the probability of an HPAI virus-infected flock going to
slaughter is extremely low. Secondly, in the unlikely event a HPAI virus-infected
flock went to slaughter undetected, few human illnesses are predicted.
So the risk of human illnesses is low but it’s not zero…does your risk assessment
identify ways to control the risks?
Yes, I’m glad you asked that. We did look at possible ways to control risk, because
even when the risk is so low as to be practically nil, there is no such thing as zero
risk. That is theoretically impossible.
This HPAI risk assessment showed the risk here to be extremely low. But because of the
consequences to the industry and the need to assure the public of continuing public
health would, potentially, be so huge we recognized how important it was to develop
what we call “mitigation strategies,” or ways of controlling risk.
So the mitigation strategies we looked at included the effectiveness of on-farm
testing methods, the impact of recalling products, and the effects of cooking.
Cooking? Can you say a little more about that?
Yes - the HPAI virus is killed by heat. Proper cooking of poultry – to, as always, an
internal temperature of 165°F – would kill any HPAI virus present.
But I just want to be sure – this is not a big food safety issue in the United States,
That’s correct. Again – this is something that would have economic and social
consequences if it were to reach this country. So we want to be prepared.
OK, well, thanks again, Denise, for coming by and explaining all this for us.
Where can our listeners get more information?
For more information on this risk assessment and others FSIS has conducted, visit our
That’s it for today. As always, thanks to our listeners for tuning in. And remember if
you have an idea for a podcast, please email it to
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www.fsis.usda.gov. Thanks for tuning