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Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2009 Sep;6(7):827-35. doi: 10.1089/fpd.2008.0253.

Risk assessment to estimate the probability of a chicken flock infected with H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus reaching slaughter undetected.

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  • 1Risk Assessment and Residue Division, Office of Public Health Science, Food Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC 20250-3766, USA.


Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 is an infectious disease of fowl that can cause rapid and pervasive mortality resulting in complete flock loss. It has also been shown to cause death in humans. Although H5N1 HPAI virus (HPAIV) has not been identified in the United States, there are concerns about whether an infected flock could remain undetected long enough to pose a risk to consumers. This paper considers exposure from an Asian lineage H5N1 HPAIV-infected chicken flock given that no other flocks have been identified as H5N1 HPAIV positive (the index flock). A state-transition model is used to evaluate the probability of an infected flock remaining undetected until slaughter. This model describes three possible states within the flock: susceptible, infected, and dead, and the transition probabilities that predict movements between the possible states. Assuming a 20,000-bird house with 1 bird initially infected, the probability that an H5N1 HPAIV-infected flock would be detected before slaughter is approximately 94%. This is because H5N1 HPAIV spreads rapidly through a flock, and bird mortality quickly reaches high levels. It is assumed that approximately 2% or greater bird mortality due to H5N1 HPAIV would result in on-farm identification of the flock as infected. The only infected flock likely to reach slaughter undetected is one that was infected within approximately 3.5 days of shipment. In this situation, there is not enough time for high mortality to present. These results suggest that the probability of an infected undetected flock going to slaughter is low, yet such an event could occur if a flock is infected at the most opportune time.

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