Prompted by outbreaks of avian flu responsible for the deaths of millions of birds and at least 13 humans in Southeast Asia, the United States today announced a ban on importation of birds from eight Southeast Asian countries. The ban, which is effective immediately, is designed to protect poultry and humans in the United States from the possible spread of avian influenza.
"These imports were already under tight restrictions because of the presence of exotic Newcastle disease in these countries," Secretary U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman said. "However, the temporary ban puts additional safeguards in place."
The ban applies to birds and bird products from the following countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, and the People’s Republic of China including Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. It excludes bird products processed to render them noninfectious. Processed avian products from these countries must have an import permit and government certification of treatment.
"Given the significant public health threat posed by avian flu, we feel this ban on bird imports is prudent," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "There is no evidence any birds infected with avian flu have been imported to the United States, but we want to do everything possible to limit the potential threat to the American public."
The H5N1 subtype of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is an extremely infectious and fatal poultry disease that spreads rapidly from flock to flock. It occurs naturally in wild birds but is particularly deadly to domesticated birds like chickens. It can also spread from birds to humans, and in Southeast Asia most of the 17 human cases have been among people closely associated with poultry. The current avian flu outbreaks have caused significant concern among health authorities worldwide because of the potential for the human and avian flu viruses to swap genes, creating a new virus to which humans would have little or no immunity.
The United States annually imports an estimated 20,000 birds arriving from countries with current avian influenza outbreaks, according to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Because the eight countries affected with the H5N1 subtype are not recognized as free of exotic Newcastle disease (END), poultry, pet birds and avian products from these countries were already subject to permitting requirements, and live birds and hatching eggs were required to be quarantined for 30 days after entry into the U.S. During the quarantine period, tests were conducted for both avian influenza and END.
Pet and performing birds of U.S. origin returning from Southeast Asia will be allowed to return to the U.S. with a permit and a 30 day quarantine in a USDA facility. These birds were previously allowed to be quarantined at home.
Avian flu has been confirmed in humans during several outbreaks in Asia since 1997. Symptoms in humans range from fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches to eye infections, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress and other severe and life-threatening complications.
The temporary ban and pet bird requirements will be reviewed as more information on the situation in Southeast Asia becomes available.