U.S. bans bird imports from Southeast Asian countries

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Last month, prompted by outbreaks of avian flu responsible for the deaths of millions of birds and at least 18 humans in Southeast Asia, the U.S. government banned the importation of birds from eight Southeast Asian countries. Effective Feb. 4, the ban is designed to protect poultry and humans in the United States from the possible spread of avian influenza.

The ban applies to birds and bird products from Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, China, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. Avian products from those countries are allowed if they are processed to render them noninfectious, but they must have import permits and government certification of treatment. At press time, no evidence suggested that any birds infected with avian flu had been imported to U.S. soil.

The United States annually imports an estimated 20,000 birds from countries with current avian influenza outbreaks, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Because the eight countries affected with the H5N1 subtype are not recognized as free of exotic Newcastle disease, 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 entering the country. During the quarantine period, tests were conducted for avian influenza and END.

Under the new restrictions, pet and performing birds of U.S. origin returning from Southeast Asia will be allowed to return to the United States with a permit and a 30-day quarantine in a Department of Agriculture facility. Those birds were previously allowed to be quarantined at home.

The H5N1 subtype of highly pathogenic avian influenza is an extremely infectious and fatal poultry disease that spreads rapidly among flocks. It occurs naturally in wild birds, but is particularly deadly to domesticated birds, such as 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. Avian flu outbreaks are of concern because of the potential for human and avian flu viruses to exchange genes, creating a new virus to which humans would have little or no immunity.

The temporary ban and pet bird requirements will be reviewed as more information on the situation in Southeast Asia becomes available. For additional information about U.S.-origin pet birds and avian products, call the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's National Center for Import and Export at (301) 734-3277, or visit the Web site at www.aphis.usda.gov and click on "Hot Issues."