KDWP BEGINS FALL SURVEILLANCE FOR AVIAN INFLUENZA
Although never detected in North America, caution is advised
As the fall waterfowl migration approaches, the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) is ready to participate in a national surveillance program aimed at early detection of Asian bird flu if it finds its way into the Americas. Hunters will play a vital role in this effort.
The particular strain of the disease being targeted -- HPAI H5N1 -- is currently circulating in birds overseas. More than 100,000 birds were tested across the U.S. last year, and no evidence of the disease was detected.
Early detection surveillance includes two different methods. KDWP will be asking hunters to let agency staff swab their bagged birds for testing. The sampling procedure involves taking a quick swab of the throat and intestinal tract of birds. This will not affect the edibility or quality of the meat. KDWP's goal is to swab 1,100 birds, with an emphasis on mallards, teal, and other dabbling duck species.
In addition to sampling hunter-bagged birds, KDWP will perform regular mortality surveys in selected areas where waterfowl congregate. Staff in the field will watch for unusual deaths in sensitive waterfowl species such as wood ducks, diving ducks, shovelers, gulls, terns, grebes, and some shorebirds.
The Wildlife Services Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) will collect environmental samples and test hunter-killed birds, as well. The Kansas Animal Health Department (KAHD) will test flocks of domestic poultry and captive game birds. The Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory will provide rapid testing services to all agencies involved in the surveillance effort. In addition, the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) have established an Avian Influenza Hotline -- 1-800-566-4518 -- for people to report concerns or ask questions regarding avian influenza.
Hunters can help by volunteering their birds for swabbing when requested by either KDWP or USDA staff. (The test is not a guarantee of food safety.) Biologists will also perform a quick inspection of the bird to determine age and sex. Game bird breeders can contact KAHD at 785-296-2326 to have their birds tested on a quarterly basis. There is currently no charge for this service.
Members of the general public may notify KDWP or USDA Wildlife Services if they notice any unusual deaths in waterfowl species. The USDA also recommends reporting deaths in species such as songbirds when there are five or more individuals involved. Their toll-free number is 1-866-487-3297. Carcasses must be freshly dead or chilled to be of diagnostic value.
To date, the Asian strain of the bird flu has not been detected in North America, so the chances of a hunter encountering the virus are extremely low. Furthermore, in its current form, the virus is not easily contracted by humans. Although the few hundred deaths overseas in the past several years have been highly publicized, they make up an extremely small percentage of the people who have been exposed. To put the numbers in perspective, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 36,000 people die in the U.S. each year from the human strains of influenza.
However, it's a good idea for hunters to take these routine precautions when handling any wild game:
- do not handle or eat sick game;
- wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning game;
- wash hands with soap and water;
- thoroughly clean knives, equipment, and surfaces that come in contact with game;
- do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling animals; and
- cook all game thoroughly (well done or 160 degrees F).