Bird Flu FAQS
Avian influenza, or “bird flu” as it is commonly called, is a naturally occurring disease in wild waterfowl caused by various strains of avian-type influenza. In the past, the disease in wild birds has been of little concern, because it usually causes either mild or no clinical signs in them. In domestic poultry flocks, however, some strains of avian influenza are deadly and are classified as “highly pathogenic.” This is the case with the current strain of avian influenza (also known as "Asian Bird Flu," or "HPAI H5N1") that is present overseas.
Some species of wild birds, such as mallards, can carry the highly pathogenic strains of influenza without becoming ill; whereas other species, such as swans, are sensitive to the virus and are more likely to sicken and die. Click here for a list of bird and mammal species that have been affected by the Asian Bird Flu overseas. Back to the top
The strain of avian influenza currently circulating overseas is different than usual for several reasons. Most notably, the virus, when contracted by man has been deadly. Fortunately though, the virus has not been able to easily infect man. Although several hundred highly publicized cases have occurred overseas, this number is very small in comparison to the overall population. For reference, in the U.S. alone approximately 36,000 people die every year from human flu. So why are the relatively few deaths from avian influenza overseas so highly publicized? It is because the percentage of people who die after contracting the virus is high.
Again, the virus has not been able to infect man easily nor is it easily passed between people. The concern is due to the possibility that the virus could mutate to become contagious and thus become an agent for a human pandemic. So, even if the current strain of Asian Bird Flu does find its way to the U.S., it would not a human health concern at this time; it is a disease that would primarily affect domestic poultry and cause economic loss. Back to the top
There are several ways the Asian Bird Flu could accidentally find its way to the U.S., including the international trade of live poultry and poultry products. It is also possible that the virus could be introduced intentionally as an act of bioterrorism. Another way the virus could be introduced into the U.S. is through the movement of migratory waterfowl. It is thought that when North American waterfowl intermingle with their Asian and European counterparts on northern breeding grounds that our birds could pick up the virus and transport it back to us during the fall migration.Back to the top
Various methods are used to detect avian influenza in wild birds. One method is to take samples from live or hunter-killed birds . The sampling procedure invlolves quick and simple swabs of the throat and cloaca which do not harm the live bird nor do they affect the edibility of the meat. After sampling, the live bird is returned to the wild, whereas bagged birds can be taken home and enjoyed for dinner. (The sampling procedure is not a test of food safety.) The swabs are then sent to a laboratory for diagnostic testing.
Another method used to detect avian influenza in wild birds is through surveillance of waterfowl areas for suspicious deaths in sensitive species. When mortalities occur that are not due to commonon diseases, injury, or natural death, the appropriate samples are taken and submitted for laboratory testing. Back to the top
To date, the Asian strain of the bird flu has not been detected in North America. The chances of a hunter encountering the virus are extremely low. Furthermore, in its current form, the virus is not easily contracted by man.Back to the top
Hunters should always take reasonable routine precautions when handling wild game. The following information provided by the USGS will also help protect you from other transmissible diseases such as tularemia.
How to kill the virus:
Thoroughly washing hands with soap and water (or with alcohol-based hand products if the hands are not visibly soiled) is a very effective method for inactivating influenza viruses, including HPAI. These viruses are also inactivated with many common disinfectants such as detergents, 10% household bleach, alcohol or other commercial disinfectants. The virus is more difficult to inactivate in organic material such as feces or soil.
Hunters should follow routine precautions when handling game:
- Do not handle or eat sick game.
- Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning game, wash hands as described above, and thoroughly clean knives, equipment and surfaces that come in contact with game.
- Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling animals.
- All game should be thoroughly cooked (well done or 160° F).
The General Public should observe wildlife, including wild birds, from a distance. This protects you from possible exposure to pathogens and minimizes disturbance to the animal.
- Avoid touching wildlife. If there is contact with wildlife do not rub eyes, eat, drink, or smoke before washing hands with soap and water as described above.
- Do not pick up diseased or dead wildlife. Contact your state, tribal or federal natural resource agency if a sick or dead animal is found.