Media Advisory: CFAES Experts Available to Speak on Avian Flu

May. 18, 2017
Photo of someone's hands holding a baby chick as it gets a health check.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Experts from The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine are available to speak with the media about the avian influenza virus. A federal report released on May 11 determined agency challenges in preventing the virus in both poultry and humans.

  • Change-Won (Charles) Lee, an Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) virologist, 330-263-3750, Lee can speak on surveillance, biosecurity and preventive measures, vaccines for poultry, interspecies transmission and the various influenza strains with pandemic potential.
  • Mohamed El-Gazzar, Ohio State University Extension’s poultry veterinarian, 614-688-1074, El-Gazzar has been working with the poultry industry since the avian influenza virus was discovered in the U.S. El-Gazzar can speak on biosecurity, surveillance, vaccines, prevention, control and outbreak containment measures such as depopulation of birds and disposal of poultry carcasses.
  • Andrew S. Bowman, an OSU assistant professor and veterinarian, 614-292-6923, His research focuses on type A influenza viruses, including avian influenza, in key animal populations.
  • Sam Custer, an OSU Extension educator, 937-548-5215, Custer is a member of the Ohio Poultry Team that meets quarterly with owners of the state’s egg-laying operations and university researchers to monitor poultry diseases.

OSU Extension and OARDC are the outreach and research arms, respectively, of the college.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report May 11 identifying challenges that federal agencies face in reducing the potential harmful effects of the avian influenza. The respiratory disease is highly infectious and potentially fatal in poultry, and although it can be passed on to humans, it has not been detected in humans in the U.S. But there has been a recent spike in human bird flu infections in China.

Avian influenza virus can be divided into two groups: highly pathogenic avian influenza virus and low pathogenic avian influenza virus, based on their ability to cause disease and/or death. Most strains of avian influenza are not highly pathogenic and cause few signs of disease in infected birds. But low pathogenic strains have the potential to mutate into highly pathogenic strains that can cause severe illness or death in birds.

On March 5, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that a highly pathogenic strain of the bird flu was found in a Tennessee chicken breeder flock contracted to Tyson Foods Inc. As a result, the farm euthanized 73,500 birds to stop the virus from entering the food system.

In 2014, 2015 and 2016, outbreaks in the U.S. led to the death of close to 50 million chickens, turkeys and other birds.

No highly pathogenic strains of avian flu have been detected in Ohio among animals or people. Low pathogenic strains have been found in birds in Ohio, Bowman said.

The closest reported cases of a highly pathogenic strain of avian flu were found in a flock west of Fort Wayne, Indiana in 2015.

One challenge in protecting U.S. poultry from avian influenza is that federal agencies rely on the voluntary actions of poultry producers to take preventative measures to protect their flocks, according to the GAO’s report. Another challenge is that the chickens used to produce the eggs necessary to manufacture a vaccine for human avian influenza are susceptible to influenza outbreaks, the report states. As a result, a new vaccine is in the works that would reduce reliance on eggs.

The avian flu is one of many respiratory diseases that Lee conducts research on at OARDC. He is also leading scientists from 11 institutions in a research project designed to determine poultry respiratory microbes to understand how they are affected by factors such as environmental conditions and recommend new control methods and management systems for healthier barns and birds with stronger immune systems. Lee also leads collaborative projects on developing a universal flu vaccine that can provide enhanced protective immunity against emerging influenza strains.

El-Gazzar is an assistant professor and poultry Extension veterinarian with more than 16 years’ experience working with the poultry industry nationally, internationally and in Ohio. He is a poultry disease clinician, who specializes in the diagnosis, prevention and control of poultry diseases.

Bowman’s expertise is in food animal production medicine, veterinary public health, and epidemiology. He leads large applied field research projects investigating the epidemiology of influenza in animal populations, transmission of influenza from animals to people and the natural history of influenza A virus. Before his return to academia, Bowman was a practicing veterinarian focused on food animal production. He now serves as a liaison between the university and food animal industries.

Custer is an agriculture and natural resources educator in Darke County, which has three of the state’s largest egg-laying operations. He works with western Ohio poultry growers to maximize production, increase profits and maintaining biosecurity.



Alayna DeMartini


Andrew S. Bowman

Sam Custer

Mohamed El-Gazzar

Change-Won (Charles) Lee