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Elk WILDLIFE DIVISION
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Wildlife and Fish Health - Avian Flu

widgeonViruses, parasites, and bacteria naturally reside in wild birds. Most strains of avian influenza or “bird flu” do not cause disease and are considered low pathogenic, meaning they do not spread easily and are not harmful to birds or people.

In December 2014, a rarer, highly pathogenic avian flu strain was detected in wild birds in Whatcom County in northern Washington state. Highly pathogenic or “HP” means the strain of flu spreads easily and can cause disease. Two separate virus strains were identified: HPAI H5N2 in northern pintail ducks and HPAI H5N8 in captive Gyrfalcons that were fed hunter-killed wild birds.

There is no immediate public health concern with either of these avian influenza strains. Both H5N2 and H5N8 viruses have been found in other parts of the world and have not caused any human infection to date.

These strains are contagious and may cause disease among wild and domestic birds. As of Dec. 17, 2014, neither virus has been found in commercial poultry anywhere in the United States or in any wild bird in Oregon.

ODFW routinely tests wild birds for diseases including avian influenza and will be working with federal partners to test wild birds for this virus.

If you see dead birds, or a migratory bird that dies for suspicious reasons, call ODFW’s Wildlife Health Hotline at 866-968-2600. More information about when to contact ODFW is below.

Guidelines for handling wildlife – hunters

mallardThere is no documented threat to public health from the strains of the avian influenza virus identified in wild birds in Washington state in December 2014. But there are some routine hygiene precautions all hunters should take whenever handling wildlife. These measures also will help provide protection from avian flu or any other disease the bird could be carrying:

  • 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 uncooked game bird and any fluid material associated with it away from other foods.
  • Thoroughly clean knives and any other equipment or surfaces come in contact with uncooked birds. A good cleanser and sanitizer is a commercial chlorine-based cleaning solution or mix 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 breast or thigh meat 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.  
  • 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.

Food Safety

Eating properly handled and cooked wild game birds is safe. As with any cooked meat, take these steps to ensure your wild bird is handled and cooked properly:

  • 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 meat 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.

Call ODFW’s dead bird reporting hotline at 866-968-2600, a number checked daily by our wildlife biologists and veterinarians

  • When multiple or clusters of birds are ill or dying.
  • If the dead or sick bird is a duck, goose, swan, or shorebird. Call if the incident includes single or multiple birds
  • If the incident is unusual or unexplained (bird acting sick, appears to die in flight).

When not to call the hotline or ODFW

  • If you suspect that the bird died of trauma from hitting a stationary object (window, powerline), or moving vehicle (found on or near a road) or by predation (cat), safely dispose of the bird using the guidelines below. 

For more information on avian flu in wild birds, visit: U.S. Geological Survey, National Wildlife Health Center: Avian Influenza

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