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Response to bird ‘flu outbreak – simulation

25 June 2007

Response to bird ‘flu outbreak – simulation exercise

Note: Operation Gallus is a simulation only of a biosecurity response to a national incursion.

At least 16 species of native bird could be affected by avian influenza, if the disease were to enter New Zealand, the Department of Conservation says.

A simulation exercise called Operation Gallus is being run by the Department in Head Office in Wellington on 25-26 June to train its staff in the Department’s response in the event of an incursion of avian influenza.

“Kiwi, takahe and shore plover may be at risk of serious population declines if bird ‘flu got into New Zealand and became established in wild birds,” DOC veterinarian Kate McInnes said today.

“DOC’s response plan details a number of measures such as disinfection, hygiene, reducing movements into special areas and even vaccination in some special cases to reduce the spread of the virus in and around populations of threatened species. For example, DOC staff will be required to detect and report any sick or death birds to the appropriate authorities via the MAF Biosecurity New Zealand hotline 0800 80 6699.”

Small samples of the at-risk species would be vaccinated to protect them from disease, as part of securing these species from extinction, Dr McInnes said. The plan includes trigger points for when vaccinations would start, and lists the sites where they would be carried out.

DOC biosecurity chief technical officer Geoff Hicks said that Operation Gallus would test DOC’s ability to carry out its internal response to a hypothetical scenario in which avian influenza has entered a specific part of New Zealand.

At that point a Coordinated Incident Management System (CIMS) would swing into action to manage DOC’s response.

The actual work during the two days will be carried out as a “desktop exercise”, in which identified DOC staff will take on roles within the CIMS structure. The team will develop an “incident action plan” to manage DOC’s response, and in so doing familiarise themselves with the kinds of decisions that would need to be made, and the processes that would trigger them.

In addition, Operation Gallus will test:
 The effectiveness of DOC’s Avian Influenza Response Plan;
 DOC’s readiness to respond to a national incursion;
 DOC co-ordination with MAF Biosecurity New Zealand;
 The type of information and support required of DOC by MAF, and;
 DOC’s capacity and capability to deliver on DOC and MAF requirements.

Background note;

Culling of wild birds has not been included in the response plan as it considered by DOC to be ineffective, and may even promote disease spread. This view is shared by the World Health Organisation, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

Disturbing birds during attempts to cull will cause stress to the remaining healthy birds, making them more susceptible to disease; and dispersal of infected individuals can cause increased spread of disease.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) is the lead agency in a response to avian influenza (bird ‘flu). MAF Biosecurity New Zealand is the country’s lead biosecurtiy agency.

The draft DOC Avian Influenza Response Plan was developed in consultation with MAF.

The DOC response will be co-ordinated by staff from DOC Biosecurity and Threatened Species Section, RD&I, in consultation with MAF.


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