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Wildlife and Fish Health - Avian Flu

A range of viruses, parasites, and bacteria naturally reside in wild bird populations. Most forms of avian influenza or “bird flu” are not harmful to birds or people. The highly pathogenic (HPAI) H5N1 strain of bird flu causing worldwide concern is an exception.

HPAI H5N1 is always fatal to domestic poultry and in some circumstances, has killed people that caught the disease through close contact with infected birds. The disease has been found in birds in countries in Europe, Asia and Africa but has never been detected in North America. However, wildlife, agricultural, and human health officials realize HPAI H5N1 could spread to North America and are taking steps to prepare for and minimize the potential impact of bird flu. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is part of this nationwide effort and is sampling wild birds to test for the virus in cooperation with other natural resource agencies.

There are a number of ways that highly pathogenic H5N1 could potentially reach the United States —wild bird migration, illegal smuggling of birds or poultry products, travel by infected people or people traveling with virus-contaminated articles from regions where HPAI H5N1 already exists. It is important to remember that even if the disease is detected in birds in the U.S., it does not signal the start of a human pandemic flu, or a situation where the flu spreads easily from one person to another.

Guidelines for handling wildlife – hunters

mallardThe following actions are routine hygiene precautions all hunters should take whenever handling wildlife. These measures also will help provide protection from HPAI H5N1, should it appear in wild birds in the U.S.

  • Wear rubber or latex gloves when handling and cleaning game birds.
  • Do not eat, drink, smoke or touch your face when handling birds.
  • Keep the game bird and its juices away from other foods.
  • Thoroughly clean knives and any other equipment or surfaces that touch birds. Use a solution of one third cup of chlorine bleach per one gallon of water.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after handling birds (or with alcohol-based hand products if your hands are not visibly soiled).
  • Cook all game meat thoroughly (up to at least 165° F) to kill disease organisms and parasites. Use a food thermometer to ensure the inside of the bird has reached at least 165° F.

Guidelines for handling wildlife – wildlife viewers

Common-sense safety and hygiene practices also are a good idea when bird-watching or handling wild bird feeders or equipment.

  • Avoid touching wildlife. If you come into contact with wildlife do not rub your eyes, eat, drink or smoke until after you wash hands with soap and water.
  • Use disposable or washable gloves when cleaning or handling backyard feeders, bird baths or other equipment. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling bird baths and feeders.
  • If you find multiple sick or dead birds, or a sick or dead duck, goose, swan, or shorebird, call 866-968-2600 to report it. More information on when to report dead birds.
  • To dispose of a dead bird, pick up the bird with an inverted bag or disposable glove, place the bird in another bag, and dispose of it in the trash. Trash receptacles should be secured so that children, pets and wild animals do not have access to them.

For more information on avian flu, visit these websites:

More facts about avian influenza

Avian influenza strains are divided into two groups based on the pathogenicity of the virus, or the ability of the virus to produce disease. Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) is common and usually does not result in noticeable symptoms in birds. The very rare high pathogenic avian influenzas, such as the HPAI H5N1 circulating in parts of Asia, Europe and Africa, are easily transmitted among birds and are typically fatal to birds, especially domestic poultry.

Wild bird monitoring efforts

bandingScientists still do not know for certain what role wild migratory birds play in transmitting this virus. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, and other agencies to monitor populations of wild migratory birds for this virus.

Migratory birds entering Oregon and other Western states from Asia and other continents where the virus is present are expected to first arrive in Alaska and eventually enter Oregon via the Pacific Flyway. Federal and state officials are collecting statistically significant amounts of samples from wild birds throughout the Pacific Flyway to test these samples for HPAI H5N1.

Even if the HPAI H5N1 virus is detected in birds in the United States, it does not mean the start of a human pandemic.

Monitoring Bird Health in the U.S.

T heU.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture have proactive interagency efforts underway to monitor wild migratory birds in the United States and to test statistically significant samples of populations of various migratory bird species for avian influenza.

USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service also work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection at major U.S. air and seaports to inspect, examine and regulate the importation of live poultry, commercial birds, pet birds and/or “hatching eggs. ” In addition, USDA monitors U.S. domestic and wild bird populations. Monitoring is conducted in four key areas: live bird markets, commercial flocks, backyard flocks and migratory bird populations. Frequent testing occurs in live bird markets and commercial flocks. Additionally, birds are tested that show signs of illness. To help backyard and smaller poultry producers, the USDA “Biosecurity for the Birds” program provides important information about reducing the chances of birds becoming infected with AI. Biosecurity refers to the application of practical, common sense management practices to keep AI and other poultry diseases out of our commercial and backyard flocks.

In the event of a highly pathogenic avian flu outbreak in the United States, USDA maintains a bank of bird vaccines to protect healthy birds outside a quarantine area, if necessary. The vaccine would be used to create a firewall around a quarantine to prevent spread. USDA works closely with its federal, state and tribal partners, as well as industry stakeholders to ensure that effective and coordinated emergency response plans are ready should an outbreak HPAI occur.

Bird Import Restrictions

As a primary safeguard, USDA maintains trade restrictions on the importation of poultry and poultry products from countries where the H5N1 HPAI strain has been detected in commercial or traditionally raised poultry, not in wild or migratory birds. Additionally, USDA has increased its monitoring of domestic commercial markets for illegally smuggled poultry and poultry products.

All imported live birds must be quarantined for 30 days at a USDA quarantine facility and tested for the avian influenza virus before entering the country. Home quarantine and testing for avian flu also is required for returning U.S.-origin pet birds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with USDA to communicate these trade restrictions to the pet bird trade community and incorporates them into decisions on permits it issues for wild bird trade.

Monitoring Human Health

At present, highly pathogenic avian influenza, such as the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain, is a disease of birds and is not readily transmitted to humans. In rare cases, it can be spread from birds to people primarily as a result of extensive direct contact with raw infected poultry or poultry droppings.

Broad concerns about public health relate to the potential for the virus to mutate, or change into a form that could spread from person to person. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is aggressively working with a team of federal, state and industry partners to ensure public health is protected.

Since February 2004, HHS ’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided U.S. public health departments with a series of alerts providing recommendations for enhanced monitoring for highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza in the U.S. Distributed through CDC’s Health Alert Network, these alerts reminded public health departments about recommendations for detecting, diagnosing, and preventing the spread of highly pathogenic H5N1 virus. The alerts also recommended measures for laboratory testing for suspected highly pathogenic H5N1 virus.

Food Safety

widgeonEating properly handled and cooked poultry is safe. If highly pathogenic H5N1 were detected in the U.S., the chance of infected poultry entering the human food chain would be extremely low. Even if it did, proper cooking kills this virus just as it does many other disease organisms and parasites. Poultry products imported to the U.S. must meet all safety standards applied to foods produced in the U.S.

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food;
  • Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw meat, poultry, fish, and their juices away from other foods;
  • After cutting raw meats, wash cutting board, knife, and counter tops with hot, soapy water;
  • Sanitize cutting boards by using a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water; and
  • Use a food thermometer to ensure food has reached the safe internal temperature--in all parts of the bird. Cook poultry to at least 165˚ F to kill food borne germs that might be present, including the avian influenza virus.

Planning for Pandemic Influenza

Should highly pathogenic H5N1 arrive in the U.S., it does not signal an influenza pandemic. Nonetheless, the HHS has been preparing for pandemic influenza for several years. Ongoing preparations include the following:

  • Working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and with other nations to help detect human cases of bird flu and contain a flu pandemic, if one begins
  • Supporting the manufacturing and testing of influenza vaccines, including finding more reliable and quicker ways to make large quantities of vaccines
  • Developing a national stockpile of antiviral drugs to help treat and control the spread of disease
  • Supporting the efforts of federal, state, tribal, and local health agencies to prepare for and respond to pandemic influenza
  • Working with federal agencies to prepare and to encourage communities, businesses, and organizations to plan for pandemic influenza

Each individual and family should know both the magnitude of what can happen during a pandemic outbreak and what actions can be taken to help lessen the impact of an influenza pandemic on themselves and their community.
To plan for a pandemic:

  • Store a supply of water and food. During a pandemic, if you cannot get to a store, or if stores are out of supplies, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand. This can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters.
  • Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
  • Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.
  • Volunteer with local groups to prepare and assist with emergency response.
  • Get involved in your community as it works to prepare for an influenza pandemic.

To limit the spread of germs and prevent infection:

  • Teach your children to wash hands frequently with soap and water, and model the correct behavior.
  • Teach your children to cover coughs and sneezes with tissues, and be sure to model that behavior.
  • Teach your children to stay away from others as much as possible if they are sick. Stay home from work and school if sick.

Knowing the facts is the best preparation. Identify sources you can count on for reliable information. If a pandemic occurs, having accurate and reliable information will be critical.

  • Reliable, accurate, and timely information is available at
  • Another source for information on pandemic influenza is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Hotline at: 1–-800-CDC- INFO (1-800-232-4636). This line is available in English and Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TTY: 1-888-232-6348 . Questions can be e-mailed to
  • Look for information on your local and state government websites. Links to each state department of public health
  • Listen to local and national radio, watch news reports on television, and read your newspaper and other sources of printed and Web-based information.
  • Talk to your local health care providers and public health officials.

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