The Bird Flu
What is it?
Bird Flu is the popular name for Avian Influenza (AI).
There are many different strains of the virus. The strains are
classified as "low pathogenic" or "high pathogenic". These classifications
refer to the potential for the viruses to kill poultry, not
infect people. The strain that has been in the news most recently
is the Asian strain of Avian Influenza, known as H5N1. This
is a very deadly strain (highly pathogenic) of virus for chickens
and other domestic birds.
It is found mainly in poultry and wild birds, but may be found
in some mammals. Only a small number of wild birds are infected
with the virus and there are usually few, if any, symptoms that
will show in the wild birds. It has never been found in North
America and there are no records anywhere that anyone in North
America has ever caught the virus from a wild bird or another
animal infected with the virus.
The reason that this strain is of such concern is that it
has caused illness and some death in people who were in close
contact with infected domestic birds in Asia and Turkey. More
than 80 species of domestic, wild, captive and experimental
birds have been found with the virus. In wild, migrating birds
it is most often found in juvenile mallards. Aquatic birds,
especially ducks, shore birds and gulls are considered natural
reservoirs for avian influenza viruses.
The occurrences of these low pathogen viruses in waterfowl peaks
in late summer and early fall. During other times of the year,
infection rates are less than 1%. They usually do not develop
the viruses, but an outbreak of H5N1 in migratory bar-headed
geese and other wild birds was reported in China in 2005. This
outbreak among wild geese in China was estimated to have been
the cause of the death of 5-10% of the world's bar-headed goose
population. In shorebirds, the peak occurrence of avian influenza
viruses is during the spring migration. The only outbreak among
shorebirds was among common terns in South Africa in 1961.
How does it spread?
The virus is spread through contact with fecal droppings, saliva
and nasal discharges of infected animals. It has been a problem
mostly with domestic poultry that have been spreading the virus,
although some wild birds have also been infected. Low disease-producing
avian viruses occur naturally in wild birds throughout the world
but when these viruses are mixed into domestic poultry flocks,
the virus has the potential to transform into the highly deadly
form, H5N1 that is capable of killing chickens, wild birds and
potentially infecting people.
There should be little risk from healthy backyard poultry, but to
be on the safe side, wash your hands after handling the birds and
cook them well.
LessCommonly Infected Animals
There is some concern that wild birds may spread the virus into
North America as they are migrating. Birds use the same migratory
routes every year. North American birds that over-winter or migrate
through Asia or Europe may come into contact with infected birds.
When they migrate back to North America in the spring to breed, they
may come into contact with other birds, potentially transmitting the
disease that way. There is also a potential for the virus to spread
to North America via humans who have been infected, are traveling
with contaminated articles, or who are smuggling birds or poultry
Pet birds are not likely to be a threat and there is a ban on importing
birds to the United States from countries where the bird flu has been
found so it is unlikely that an infected pet can be purchased from
a reputable pet store in the U.S.
What's being done to prevent its
Federal and state wildlife agencies are conducting continent-wide
wild bird and habitat surveillance for H5N1. In the US, approximately
50,000 wild birds and 25,000 fecal samples will be tested. Surveillance
for wild birds will focus on wetland species such as waterfowl,
gulls, and shorebirds and include live-trapped birds, hunter-harvested
waterfowl, and mortality events.
New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife is working in cooperation
with the U.S.
Department of Agriculture - Wildlife Services to monitor
the wild birds in the state. Emphasis in wild bird populations
will be put on migratory birds that have a higher chance of
carrying the H5N1 virus, especially those birds with the potential
to mix with migratory birds from Europe and Asia.
with Confirmed H5N1 Presence
9 countries in Southeast Asia
8 territories and republics in Russia
Up to 5 provinces in Kazakhstan
Wild birds will be trapped alive and will have samples taken or
hunter-harvested birds will be sampled.1,873 wild birds were collected
and tested in New Jersey from the summer of 2006 through March of
2007. Captive pheasants at the state pheasant farm comprised 217 of
the birds tested. From summer 2007 through spring 2008, 1,500 birds
will be sampled for H5N1 in New Jersey. Sampling will increase during
the fall and winter as birds are migrating. In addition, mortality
events will be investigated and over 800 fecal samples from birds
will be collected and tested.
The USDA has banned the import of birds or poultry products from
any country where H5N1 has been reported. For the past 20 years, the
NJ Department of Agriculture, Division
of Animal Health has been actively surveying birds for Avian Influenza.
Surveyed birds include domestic backyard flocks, birds at livestock
and poultry auctions, bird markets and poultry factories. Chances
of infected poultry entering a store is low since all poultry is inspected
by the USDA and the farms where these birds are raised are being tested
Where is the H5N1 virus now?
There are an increasing number of reports of infected birds in Asia,
Europe and Africa since it was first reported in 1997. It has been
the largest and most severe outbreak in poultry ever. Some people
in Asia (Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam) and Turkey
have been infected with the virus due to close contact with infected
domestic birds. As of September 2007, the World
Health Organization confirmed 328 cases worldwide, 200 cases of
which were fatal.
Should people be concerned?
As of right now, there are no reported cases of highly pathogenic
H5N1 in humans or birds in North America. There is also no record
of wild birds transmitting this virus to humans, but that doesn't
mean that it isn't possible. Normally, the virus is passed among the
bird species. Humans are most likely to get the virus if they are
in very close contact with infected birds (such as at a poultry farm)
which is what happened in Asia. There is no report of human to human
transmission of the H5N1 virus.
There is no report of wild birds transmitting the disease to humans.
The concern from organizations such as the World Health Organization
and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that the virus
could mutate into a human virus that would make transmission of the
disease from person to person very easy, causing a global influenza
What precautions can you take?
- Use rubber gloves when you clean birds or gather eggs.
- Keep your hands away from your mouth and face when handling birds
- Cook any birds or eggs, whether they are store bought or wild,
all the way through. The juices should be clear and there should
be no pink meat. Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the meat
has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cook birds at a minimum oven temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Eat smoked birds only if they have been heated to 165 degrees
- Wash your knife, work area and hands with soap and water after
- Disinfect your work area and knives with a 10% bleach solution.
- Do not eat, smoke or drink while handling birds - wait until you
have washed your hands.
- If you use feathers in crafts or clothing, make sure they are
collected from healthy birds. Feathers can be cleaned using 1 tablespoon
of bleach to a quart of water.
- Observe wildlife from a distance.
- Avoid touching wildlife, including diseased or dead animals.
Regular flu shots are not thought to protect you from the bird flu,
but they can help prevent the virus from combining with another flu
type in your body. If that happens it would make it easier for the
bird flu to be transmitted from person to person. There is no vaccine
for the bird flu yet, but it is being worked on.
Antiviral drugs may limit the symptoms and lessen the chance of
the virus being transmitted from person to person, but some people
have developed a resistance to these antiviral drugs.
Information for Hunters
How do you know if you have H5N1?
The incubation period for the virus is longer than for the
seasonal flu. The incubation period may be from 2-8 days, but
can possibly be as long as 17 days. It is hard to tell if someone
has H5N1 because of the large range of symptoms that present.
If you feel sick after handling or eating domestic or wild
birds, it is important to contact your doctor and let him know
that you were in contact with birds or sick animals.
More severe symptoms
There have been no findings of the Highly Pathogenic H5N1in New
Jersey or North America and there have been no reports of anyone contracting
the virus from wild birds anywhere. Although Highly Pathogenic H5N1
is primarily a poultry disease, wild birds appear to play some role
in its spread in the Old World. Risk to hunters appears low, but there
is no guarantee that there is no risk.
Water has not been known to transmit any flu virus, but if there
were a large number of infected birds in an area with little water
flow, high levels of contamination may infect a person if the water
is left untreated. Make sure to filter all water since other problems
may develop if untreated water is drunk. Water filters that are designed
for camping are biological filters that remove bacteria and protozoa.
These filters should be used in combination with a disinfectant or
by boiling water for at least one minute to remove viral contaminants.
Freezing will do nothing to the virus; it can still be dangerous when
If you hunt with a dog, there is no evidence that they can contract
What are the symptoms in birds?
Birds infected with the H5N1 virus may exhibit respiratory problems
such as coughing, sneezing, swelling around the eyes, ruffled feathers,
diarrhea and tremors. Other symptoms include decreased activity, food
consumption and egg production. However, these symptoms may indicate
What do you do if you see a group of sick
or dead birds?
Remember that Highly Pathogenic H5N1 has not been observed in New
Jersey or North America. If you find sick or dead birds, do not handle
them. Contact the USDA-Wildlife Services at 1-866-4-USDA-WS to report
observations of dead birds.