Avian Influenza

Below you will find information regarding avian influenza and the role of migratory birds in the transfer of the Asian H5N1 strain as outlined by the National Wildlife Health Center.

What kinds of wild birds primarily carry avian influenza?

Has HPAI H5N1 affected migratory birds differently than other avian influenza?

Are migratory birds carrying the virus from one country to another?

Can humans catch avian influenza from wild birds?

What are the potential routes for a pathogenic strain of avian (or human) influenza to arrive in North America?

What can we do to protect ourselves?

What is the Department of the Interior?s responsibility in investigating and handling avian influenza issues?

Which bureaus in the Department of the Interior have roles in efforts related to avian influenza?

What is the Department of the Interior doing to check wild migratory birds for avian influenza?

Where will DOI surveillance efforts be focused next?

What kinds of wild birds primarily carry avian influenza?
Most avian influenza viruses have been isolated from wild waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) and shorebirds (wading birds), gulls, and terns.

With rare exception, the thousands of flu isolates found in wild birds have been low pathogenic avian influenza and have rarely caused signs of illness.

The occurrence of avian influenza in wild ducks in North America reaches its height in late summer and early fall. At other times of the year, infection rates are usually less than 1 percent.

In shorebirds, infection rates are highest during the spring migration, although in comparison with waterfowl, their infection rates are much lower.

The H5N1 avian influenza virus remains mostly a virus of birds and has killed or forced the culling of more than 200 million chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and other fowl.

Has HPAI H5N1 affected migratory birds differently than other avian influenza
viruses in the past?

Yes. In May 2005, HPAI H5N1 was detected for the first time in wild birds in Qinghai, China, where bar-headed geese (Anser indicus) died. This marked the first time since 1961 in which large numbers of wild birds have died from avian influenza.

In the May 2005 outbreak in China, researchers estimate that 5 to 10 percent of the world's population of bar-headed geese may have perished.

Most of the wild birds confirmed as having HPAI H5N1 have been sick, dying, or dead, although there are some reports of apparently healthy wild birds infected with HPAI H5N1.

Are migratory birds carrying the virus from one country to another?
The role of migratory birds in the transfer of the Asian H5N1 strain is not clear. H5N1 has been identified in an increasing number of wild birds.

The pattern and timing of several outbreaks have not coincided with periods of major migratory movements or migratory routes. However, there are also reports of wild bird mortality that are associated with outbreaks of HPAI H5N1 in poultry.

It is not known if wild birds were the source of the virus or acquired the virus from poultry; although, once infected they could be a potential source of infection for domestic poultry that are not isolated from wild birds.
 

Can humans catch avian influenza from wild birds?
There are no documented cases of human H5N1 disease resulting from contact with wild birds. However, exposure to domestic and wild birds potentially infected with H5N1 should be avoided.

The only documented cases of transmission to humans are from poultry; these cases include both highly pathogenic and low pathogenic strains of avian influenza.

At the present time, close contact with infected domestic poultry has been the primary way that people have become infected with the HPAI H5N1 virus.

What are the potential routes for a pathogenic strain of avian (or human) influenza to arrive in North America?
Bird migration is only one possible route of introduction of HPAI H5N1 into North America.
Illegal smuggling of birds and poultry products, travel by infected people or people traveling with virus-contaminated articles are more direct, and possibly more likely, means of introducing the new strain of HPAI H5N1 virus into the United States.

Migratory birds usually travel the same routes in their annual migrations. In the Northern Hemisphere, birds begin moving south during August and September of each year. North American migratory birds that over-winter in Asia may come into contact with potentially infected domestic or wild birds during the winter months.

In spring, migratory birds will migrate north to their breeding grounds in eastern Russia, Alaska, and Canada. Migratory birds infected with the HPAI H5N1 returning from Asia can potentially interact with other North American wild birds as they co-mingle on the breeding grounds.

What can we do to protect ourselves?
As a general rule, people should observe wildlife, including wild birds, from a distance. This protects people from possible exposure to diseases and minimizes disturbance to the animal.

Avoid touching wildlife. If there is contact with wildlife, do not rub eyes, eat, drink, or smoke. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.

Do not pick up diseased or dead wildlife.

Contact your state, tribal, or federal natural resource agency if you find a sick or dead animal.

What is the Department of the Interior?s responsibility in investigating and handling avian influenza issues?
DOI is responsible for managing and protecting wildlife, including migratory birds, under various laws and treaties, and for protecting public health on more than 500 million acres of land that it manages across the country.

To carry out these responsibilities, the Department and its partners are investigating HPAI H5N1 in migratory birds. DOI is also making plans to protect the health of its employees and the 450 million people that visit Department-managed lands each year.

Which bureaus in the Department of the Interior have roles in efforts related to avian influenza?
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS is the scientific arm of the Department and has a long history of responding to wildlife disease emergencies and conducting wildlife disease investigations. The USGS is also supporting international HPAI research efforts by contributing information and world-class expertise about migratory birds and bird movements.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).The FWS is the federal wildlife management agency within the Department. The FWS administers the National Wildlife Refuge System, with many of its 545 refuges providing critical nesting, migration, and wintering habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds. FWS also carries out permitting and enforcement responsibilities under federal laws governing trade in wildlife species and products, and works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to regulate the importation of wild birds for the pet trade, research, and other purposes.

The National Park Service (NPS). With 388 areas in the NPS, the NPS has a key role in protecting the health of its visitors. The NPS hosts 32 commissioned officers of the U.S. Public Health Service to meet this important responsibility.

What is the Department of the Interior doing to check wild migratory birds for avian influenza?
USGS and FWS, in collaboration with State of Alaska biologists have been strategically sampling migratory birds for H5N1 in the Pacific Flyway for several months. These efforts complement a series of ongoing avian influenza studies being conducted by the USDA and its university partners in Alaska, where birds that regularly migrate between Asia and North America are known to congregate and to nest.

Where will DOI surveillance efforts be focused next?
The U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Agriculture are planning a coordinated and more comprehensive surveillance and detection program for 2006. This program will serve to provide an early warning to the agriculture, public health, and wildlife communities should migratory birds be found to carry this particular virus.

 

For more information about avian influenza go to:?

 

"What is the Bird Flu?" FAQs Page

 

Bird Flu Symptoms, Treatment and Vaccines

 

Current Bird Flu Maps

 

Back to Birdwatching Bliss Home Page

 

 

 

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