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Appendix K: DOI Avian Influenza Communications Strategy



First 36-Hour Communication Plan

Scenario: First wild migratory bird(s) tests presumptive positive for HPAI H5N1 or another HPAI strain in the United States

Overall Communications Objectives:
  • Minimize public fear and panic by providing accurate, timely, and consistent information on avian influenza to internal and external audiences.
  • Maintain credibility and instill public confidence in the Federal Government’s ability to respond to a detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in North American migratory birds, especially the HPAI H5N1 virus that has spread from Asia to Europe and Africa.
  • Provide a rapid and integrated internal and external notification plan for the detection of HPAI H5N1 (or another HPAI strain) in North America.
  • Correct rumors, inaccuracies, and misperceptions as quickly as possible.

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Specific Objectives: 
  • Communicate actions the Federal Government is taking, in cooperation with State and local governments, to facilitate the early detection of HPAI H5N1 (or another HPAI strain), respond to the detection of HPAI avian influenza in migratory birds, and provide early notification of the presence of this virus in North American migratory birds.
  • Prepare the public for presumptive H5N1 findings in migratory birds, inform the public that there are both low pathogenic and high pathogenic varieties of H5N1, and that both will likely be detected in migratory birds.
  • Reassure the public that avian influenza is primarily a disease of birds and that the detection of either low pathogenic or high pathogenic H5N1 (or another HPAI strain) in wild birds does not signal a human pandemic or that the virus has spread to poultry.
  • Assure the public that properly cooked wild game and poultry are safe to eat.

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Key Issues:
  • Effectiveness of wild bird monitoring/testing program.
  • Safety of commercial poultry and people.
  • Federal-State preparedness and response capabilities.

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Overview of Notifications and Announcements:

The USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) utilizes molecular screening tests to detect the presence of avian influenza viruses, specifically H5 and H7 subtypes, in samples submitted from live, hunter taken or dead wild birds. All presumptive positive H5 and H7 positive samples are immediately submitted to the USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory (USDA NVSL) for independent confirmation, including the determination of the N subtype. USDA NVSL immediately initiates tests to determine the pathogenicity of all positive H5N1 samples.

Notification of the presumptive detection of low pathogenicity, H5N1 North American lineage avian influenza, that is not associated with wild bird mortality, is posted electronically on the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Early Detection Data System (HEDDS) website.

The presumptive detection of H5N1 avian influenza associated wild bird mortality and/or highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza from live, hunter taken, or dead wild birds will be communicated to the appropriate Federal, State, local, and international officials and publicly announced through a joint media advisory and briefing by DOI/USDA/HHS scientists/subject matter experts.

Notification of appropriate officials will follow the procedures outlined below and the media advisory will alert news organizations of the time and place of the joint briefing (either at USGS NWHC or in Washington, D.C.) and a news release will be issued simultaneously with the briefing.

  1. USGS NWHC notifies USGS Director/policy level officials of the presumptive detection of H5 avian influenza from wild birds; immediately submits the sample to USDA NVSL for validation of strain, and determination of subtype (estimated time for NVSL testing is 1 - 2 days).
  2. If USDA NVSL validates the detection of a presumptive positive H5N1 avian influenza sample, USDA NVSL immediately begins testing to confirm strain, subtype, lineage, and determine the pathogenicity of the virus (estimated required time is up to 12 days).
  3. Upon initial notification of the presumptive detection of H5N1 avian influenza associated wild bird mortality, and/or presumptive non-North American lineage H5N1 and/or presumptive highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza, USDA notifies the White House, DOI, DHS, HHS, and the State Department.
  4. DOI Assistant Secretary - PMB convenes the DOI Avian Influenza Leadership Team via meeting and conference call. (The team includes Assistant Secretary for Water and Science; Assistant Secretary for Parks and Refuges; Deputy Assistant Secretary - Law Enforcement, Security and Emergency Management; as well as the Directors of FWS, USGS, Office of Communications, Office of External Affairs, Office of Congressional, and Legislative Affairs; and USGS and FWS AI science experts/advisors.)
  5. The Assistant Secretary - PMB and DOI Avian Influenza Leadership coordinate with the White House, USDA, DHS, and HHS which make decisions on the:
    1.    Appropriate response actions, if any, that should be taken at the site/area where the sample was taken and other associated sties, and notification of Federal, State, and/or Tribal agencies that would take additional actions
    2.    Specific content of advisory and briefing message and time of media advisory, news briefing, and announcement to be released jointly
    3.    Appropriate DOI representatives on the DOI Avian Influenza Leadership Team designated to ensure contact with limited “need-to-know” agencies/officials to inform them of the finding, actions being taken, and the content of the news advisory, briefing, and release to be held/issued
    4.    Activating a USDA Joint Information Center (JIC) with DOI participation to assist in gathering and disseminating information among cooperating agencies, stakeholders, media, and the public.
  6. Pre-news advisory announcement notifications to a limited number of officials/agencies by simultaneous phone calls, detailing presumptive H5N1 finding, content of news advisory/conference/release, actions being taken by Federal, State, and/or Tribal agencies, time of media advisory, news briefing, and release. (Strict timetables must apply. Simultaneous limited pre-release notification to the following officials on a need-to-know basis within (at a minimum) an hour of scheduled release for advisory.)
  7. USDA, with DOI and HHS consultation, informs the White House, DHS, and State Department representatives of media advisory and news briefing time and place, determines which science spokesperson from DOI, USDA, and HHS will participate in a joint news briefing, and ensures that the respective Departments understand their responsibility to notify affected offices in their agency as well as State and local jurisdictions and key international officials.
    1. USDA would notify veterinary/animal health agency in affected the State(s)
    2. DOI will notify appropriate wildlife management officials in affected the State(s) and Tribes
    3. HHS would notify the affected State(s) Department of Public Health
    4. DHS would notify State emergency management agency
    5. State Department would notify Canada, Mexico, and international organizations
    6. Depending on consultation with USDA and HHS, DOI Legislative and Congressional Affairs may notify Members of Congress from the affected State(s); DOI External Affairs may notify the affected State(s) governor’s office, affected City mayor’s office, etc.
  8. In coordination with USDA and HHS, when notified by a member of the DOI Avian Influenza Leadership Team that all pre-release contacts have been made or at a prearranged release time,
    1. DOI/USDA/HHS issue a joint media advisory on content, time, and place of the news briefing.
    2. DOI/USDA/HHS spokespersons (science/subject matter experts) hold a news briefing at announced time/place and DOI/USDA/HHS simultaneously release approved news of findings and actions being taken.
      The briefing and announcement include contact names/numbers of authorized spokespersons at USGS NWHC, DOI, USDA, and HHS who can respond to media inquiries.
    3. Immediately before media advisory goes out, USDA or DOI Legislative and Congressional Affairs notifies the affected State’s Congressional delegation as well as Congressional oversight committees.
    4. DOI/USGS/FWS/USDA/HHS distribute the approved news release to Agencies and officials they have contacted earlier with the proposed advisory, briefing, and release.
    5. In addition, DOI informs all DOI Bureaus, Offices, and employees. DOI Bureaus then inform their internal and external audiences, partners, stakeholders, NGOs, etc.
  9. The joint DOI/USDA/HHS release is posted to the USGS NWHC website, and USGS, FWS, DOI, USDA and HHS all post the release on their respective websites or provide link to the site. In addition, media are referred to pandemicflu.gov, and USGS, FWS, DOI, USDA, and HHS avian influenza web pages for additional information and media products on avian influenza, the wild migratory bird monitoring plan, and related topics, including commercial poultry, backyard flocks, human health.
  10. USGS, FWS, DOI, USDA, and HHS monitor news reports 24/7 and contact media as soon as possible to advise those regarding factual errors, misstatements, and misinterpretations in reports.
  11. DOI/USDA/HHS issue follow-up news releases and public service announcements, as well as wildlife, poultry, and human health bulletins, as appropriate, to keep the media and the public informed on related developments.
  12. When final confirmatory results from USDA NVSL are available, and if they indicate the high pathogenic strain of H5N1, the same pre-release and release procedures will be followed to coordinate the DOI/USDA/HHS announcement.
  13. If the USDA NVSL findings indicate a low pathogenic strain, an abbreviated procedure can be employed: a conference call with key DOI/USGS/FWS/USDA/HHS officials and a pre-release notification for each of the parties contacted on the presumptive H5N1, as well as a media advisory, news briefing, and release of joint announcement.

    (Note: These procedures are aimed to coordinate initial presumptive finding of HPAI H5N1 in wild migratory birds and establish a process. As additional findings occur, the process will be streamlined, handled via conference calls and prearranged decision-making protocols to reduce the time and policy decision process for the first findings.)
  14. Authorized spokespersons fornews briefings on finding of presumptive H5N1 in wild migratory birds:
  15. DOI:  Dr. Susan Haseltine, Associate Director for Biology, USGS
    USDA:  Dr. Larry M. Granger, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, APHIS
    HHS:  Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director, CDC
    Interior Policy, Subject Matter Experts, Pies (Maintained separately)

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Public Messages: (Three possible scenarios)

1) The detection of presumptive low-path, North American lineage H5N1 from a live wild migratory bird is posted on the HEDDS website:

The Federal Government is well prepared and responding to confirm the presumptive findings and identify the level of pathogenicity, while instituting additional surveillance actions.

Detection of H5N1 is not unexpected.  The low pathogenic strain of this virus is known to occur in North American migratory birds, and it poses only minimal risk to poultry and no risk to people.

The USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa is conducting confirmatory tests to determine if this is the relatively harmless low pathogenic strain known to occur in North American birds or if it is the more lethal high pathogenic variety that has been circulating in Asia and Europe.

2) The detection of non-North American lineage and/or presumptive highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza from live, hunter harvested or dead wild bird

(Repeat main messages from above.)

The finding of high pathogenic H5N1 virus in migratory birds in North America would not (does not) signal the beginning of a human pandemic.  The HPAI H5N1 is a disease of birds that only rarely infects humans.  There has been no sustained human to human transmission of the HPAI H5N1 virus.

Federal and State public health and agriculture officials have been notified and will take additional appropriate actions as more information becomes available.  There is no indication that the disease has spread to poultry, and properly cooked game and poultry are safe to eat.

The USDA National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa is conducting confirmatory tests to determine if this is the relatively harmless low pathogenic strain known to occur in North American birds or if it is the more lethal high pathogenic variety that has been circulating in Asia and Europe.

The results from USDA NVSL should be available within the next 12 days.  While the USDA NVSL tests are conducted, Federal and State agencies are taking precautionary biosecurity actions:
USGS, FWS, and State surveillance is being increased along the projected flyway path of the particular bird species from which the sample was taken.
USGS and FWS are working with USDA and State and local agencies to activate biosecurity measures at domestic poultry operations all along the predicted flyway path of this species.

3) The detection of presumptive H5N1 avian influenza associated with a large wild bird mortality event.

(Repeat main messages from above.)

A field team is at (traveling to) the site where sample was collected, and further investigation will provide information on the extent of the event, other species involved, and the circumstances that may have led to the die-off.

Wild bird die-offs can result from many causes.  While we have a presumptive HPAI H5N1 virus from dead birds on site, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center field and lab investigation is examining other causes that may have led to the mortality event.

Federal and State agencies have been alerted and are instituting biosecurity measures at the site of the die-off.
USGS and FWS biologists are increasing monitoring and testing of migratory birds in the surrounding area and along the projected flyway path of the species involved.
USDA is monitoring the surrounding area to detect any spread of H5N1 to poultry flocks along the projected flyway path of the species involved.

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General Messages for releases on presumptive HPAI H5N1:
  • Avian influenza is a disease of birds.
  • There are at least two strains of H5N1 - a North American strain that causes mild illness in birds and a strain in Asia that has spread to Europe and Africa that causes death among birds.
  • A finding of presumptive H5N1 is not cause for alarm; subsequent testing will determine whether or not this finding will be the highly pathogenic strain that is circulating in Asia or not.
  • Neither the presumptive test nor a subsequent finding of highly pathogenic H5N1 signals that the disease has gone beyond wild birds.
  • All birds, wild or domestic, are safe to eat if cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit—even if the animal has the virus.
  • There has been no documented evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of the disease, and most humans who have contracted the disease thus far have often had direct contact with an infected bird.
  • The finding of H5N1 HPAI in migratory birds does not signal a pandemic. Information on the wild bird testing is made public to make sure that our partners and the public are kept apprised of what we are finding in our increased surveillance of the wild bird population.

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