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Colorado State Home to Avian Influenza Surveillance Program
When Dr. Kristy Pabilonia began her career as an avian disease diagnostic veterinarian, she heard plenty of comments about her chosen work. Dubbed "The Chicken Lady" by friends and colleagues, she found herself working in a relatively quiet field with little glamorous upside. What a difference an outbreak makes.
Dr. Pabilonia, now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, is coordinator of the Colorado Avian Disease Surveillance Program, created after the first outbreaks of avian influenza in Southeast Asia sent a collective shiver through the global health community. Fears that avian influenza H5N1 may be the one that makes the jump from poultry operations to an influenza pandemic in humans have spurred the creation of global surveillance and disaster preparedness plans, driven concern over drug availability, and fanned the flames of fear in a public still recovering from the recently introduced West Nile virus.
"Colorado is one of the first states to start a surveillance program, and it has ballooned into a much more important project than we ever thought it would be" said Dr. Pabilonia, who received her DVM at Colorado State University and is completing her master's degree in microbiology. "This is a cooperative effort of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the Colorado Department of Agriculture and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Recently, the Colorado Division of Wildlife joined in our surveillance efforts so we can be more vigilant against avian influenza no matter where it shows up."
Since the program's creation, more than 1,400 birds have been tested for avian influenza including backyard poultry, birds at swap meets, birds from animal rescue and animal control groups, country and state fairs, and birds that find their way to CSU through concerned citizens who report dead or ill birds. Highly pathogenic strains, including H5N1, have not been detected in the United States to date.
"With a good surveillance program, even if the more virulent form of avian influenza does make its way to the state, we can act quickly to stamp out the disease by depopulating birds, followed by proper cleansing and disinfecting of the contaminated site," said Dr. Pabilonia.
Because the disease is always presenting new challenges, surveillance is only part of Dr. Pabilonia's work.
"Every month we are looking at new issues," said Dr. Pabilonia. "Recently, direct transmission of avian influenza was confirmed in a cat, so we are looking at transmission in addition to things such as personal protection for individuals working at a site with infected birds, and proper response to an outbreak."
Dr. Pabilonia also is an invited speaker at everything from bird groups to city councils, and public health officials to nurses, doctors and epidemiologists. She is invited to speak at least once a week as many in the public are eager to learn more about avian influenza and what it means to them.
"The face of the poultry industry is changing," said Dr. Pabilonia. "We expect the total number of farmed poultry inthe world to double in the coming 20 years as more countries become more developed and switch from grain-based diets to more protein. That means more birds will be raised in less space and the potential for disease transmission is high. Complicating that is the fact that people and animals are moving more so global spread of a local disease becomes easier and easier."
The Colorado Avian Disease Surveillance Program has now been joined by a second group aimed at addressing all issues surrounding avian influenza surveillance, response and education. The Colorado Avian Influenza Surveillance and Education Task Force includes Drs. Pabilonia and Barb Powers (CSU-VDL), Dr. Matt Johnson who respresents pet bird issues, and Dr. Tony Knight with the Department of Clinical Sciences; individuals from the Colorado Veterinary Medical Foundation; State Animal Response Team; members of regional offices of the USDA-APHIS Veterinary Service and Wildlife Services, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Funding for avian influenza sample collection, testing and education has been provided by the agencies inolved in the program. Additional funds will be provided this year through a cooperative agreement with the USDA.
To learn more about avian influenza, go to www.dlab.colostate.edu and click on Avian Influenza Information