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USDA Develops Teaching Resource "Understanding Avian Influenza”

News Release

Scott Elliott, CSREES Staff, (202) 720-7185

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2007 – Educators nationwide now have an additional information resource for teaching high school biology students about avian influenza, specifically highly pathogenic H5N1. The Understanding Avian Influenza lesson plan and instructor's guide today were offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. The lesson explains to students the many reasons why they should know about the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus that currently is spreading overseas and what it would mean if it is detected in the United States.

“Agriculture's basic life lessons link together many subjects such as science, economics and social studies for a student's improved understanding and well-rounded education,” said Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Gale A. Buchanan. “Understanding Avian Influenza will challenge teachers and their students to think about the many impacts highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza already has had throughout the world and why it's critical that the spread of this virus be stopped.”

Understanding Avian Influenza is available through Agriculture in the Classroom, a grassroots program coordinated by USDA. The program's goal is to help students gain a greater awareness of the role of agriculture in the economy and society. The program is carried out in each state, according to state needs and interests, by individuals representing farm organizations, agribusiness, education and government.

Because the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza strain has infected thousands of domestic and wild bird populations in more than 50 countries and is one of the few avian influenza viruses to have crossed the species barrier to infect humans, it is the most deadly of those that have crossed the barrier. Most cases of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or surfaces contaminated with secretion/excretions from infected birds.

To help students better understand the realistic threats of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus, the lesson plan is divided into three stages. The first stage covers the spread of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus between the years 1996, when it first appeared, to the year 2004. The second and third stages focus on the continued spread and evolution of the highly path H5N1 avian influenza virus during 2005 and 2006. Each timeframe is subdivided into three short elements: Background, Brief History and Things to Think About. Background sections include scientific information about avian influenza relevant to the development of the disease. The Brief History sections lay out what was known about highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 during that time period and the Things to Think About sections have additional information, activities and questions for discussion so that students can make their own determination about the seriousness of the virus.

The Understanding Avian Influenza lesson plan and instructor's guide are available at Ag in the Classroom, www.agclassroom.org, and at CSREES, http://www.csrees.usda.gov/avianlessonplan.pdf . Information about USDA's avian influenza efforts can be found at www.usda.gov/birdflu and on the U.S. Government's Web site for avian influenza and human pandemic preparedness at www.pandemicflu.gov.

CSREES advances knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting research, education, and extension programs in the Land-Grant University System and other partner organizations. For more information, visit http://www.csrees.usda.gov.