Scientists monitoring potential spread of virus

PRATT -- Avian influenza, or "bird flu," caused by the virus strain H5N1 has not been detected in wild or domestic birds in North America. It has been found in domestic poultry and nearly 60 species of wild birds, including waterfowl and shorebirds, in Asia and Europe. As of August 2005, H5N1 has caused illness in more than 100 persons in Europe and Asia, resulting in the deaths of 64 people.

It is believed that most human cases were the result of direct handling or consumption of infected domestic poultry, or contact with virus-contaminated surfaces and materials. To date, there have been no reported cases of humans becoming infected from waterfowl or other migratory birds.

The recent rapid spread of H5N1 in Asia and Europe has officials in North America concerned. Scientists from the National Wildlife Health Center, the Alaska Science Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the State of Alaska are working together. Migrating birds are being sampled for H5N1 in the Pacific Flyway, which would be the most likely entry route into North America if migrating waterfowl are the carriers.

Based on the fact that the virus has not yet been confirmed in North America, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks considers the risk to waterfowl hunters to be low. However, considering all of the facts, the department suggests that hunters follow the standard precautions provided by the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS National Wildlife Health Center:

  • do not handle or eat sick game;
  • wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning game, wash hands thoroughly, and clean knives, equipment and surfaces that come in contact with game;
  • do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling animals; and
  • thoroughly cook all game (well done or 160 degrees F).

More detailed information about Avian Influenza (HPAI H5N1) is available at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center website.