Ducks Unlimited Statement on Avian Flu
Most of us in the waterfowling community are by now aware of the media reports regarding the H5N1 strain of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAI H5N1) that has spread throughout much of Asia and into Europe. Although the virus has primarily affected domestic poultry operations, it is receiving great attention within the medical community because it has caused 62 human deaths in Asia since the winter of 2003-2004. Domestic poultry (contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces) have been the principle vector for the H5N1 transmission in most of the 121 confirmed human cases, with only a handful of human infections having resulted from human-to-human contact.
Although there have been recent reports that the virus has caused deaths in wild migratory birds in a few isolated locations, there is no evidence suggesting that wild birds have transmitted HPAI H5N1 to humans. In fact the role that migratory birds have in dispersing the virus is still not well understood. However, with the possibility that wild birds could become vectors for the new HPAI H5N1 virus, and because some waterfowl and shorebird species migrate between Alaska and Asia, authorities in the wildlife conservation, hunting and medical communities are taking steps to monitor the situation closely and take action if necessary.
DU is reassuring fellow waterfowl enthusiasts that HPAI H5N1 is not a current threat in North America. Although the probability of future occurrence in North American waterfowl cannot be predicted, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center are diligently monitoring migratory birds in Alaska in conjunction with state and university support. To date, thousands of waterfowl and shorebird samples from Alaska have been analyzed, and no evidence of the virus has been discovered. Thus, with respect to this year’s hunting season, federal authorities have stated that “it is unlikely that H5N1 will be carried by birds migrating from Asia to North America this fall or winter.”
In light of these facts and observations by authorities, DU suggests that the appropriate response by hunters at this time is to simply stay informed and educated by watching for updates to this release and the links listed below. While HPAI H5N1 is not a current threat to waterfowl hunters in North America, Ducks Unlimited encourages hunters to heed the standard precautions offered by the USGS National Wildlife Health Center for protecting themselves against other diseases for which there is always a low probability of transmission by handling harvested animals:
1.) Do not handle birds that are obviously sick or birds found dead.
2.) Keep your game birds cool, clean and dry.
3.) Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning your birds.
4.) Use rubber gloves when cleaning game.
5.) Wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes after dressing birds.
6.) Clean all tools and surfaces immediately afterwards; use hot soapy water, then disinfect with a 10 percent chlorine bleach solution.
7.) Cook game meat thoroughly (155-165 degrees F) to kill disease organisms and parasites.
For more information about avian influenza and wildlife diseases:
Ducks Unlimited Canada Article: Invisible threat: the impacts of disease on wild duck populations