|Growing media attention concerning avian influenza in Asia and Europe has many people wanting to learn more. The Division of Wildlife would like to clarify the facts about wild birds and avian influenza.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 (HPAI H5N1), is associated with birds. “Bird flu” is a nonscientific term which has also been used to refer to the HPAI H5N1 outbreak originating in Asia. Prior to 2002, when HPAI H5N1 was linked to wild bird deaths in Asia, there had been only one other case known involving the death of common terns in South Africa in 1961. However, low pathogenic avian influenza viruses (infections that do not cause illness) are common in wild birds around the world. While wild birds can be infected with low pathogenic avian influenza worldwide, only HPAI H5N1, which has caused mortality in Europe, Asia, and Africa is of concern. To date, HPAI H5N1 has not been detected in humans, poultry, or wild birds in the United States. Federal and state agencies as well as universities are actively monitoring for the possible introduction of the virus into the United States. More information on the U.S. Interagency Strategic Plan for Early Detection of Asian H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Wild Migratory Birds is available.
The outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza that began in southeast Asia in mid-2003 and have spread to portions of Europe and Africa, are the largest and most severe on record. While Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Malaysia have controlled their outbreaks and are now considered free of the disease. Elsewhere in Asia, the virus has become endemic in several of the initially affected countries. For specific information concerning the countries affected by the H5N1 virus, visit the World Health Organization’s web site. Almost all of the human cases have been linked to direct contact with infected poultry. There has never been a documented case of avian influenza virus transmission directly from wild birds to people.
While HPAI H5N1 has not been found in the U.S.A., routine personal hygienic precautions should be taken when around domestic and wild birds. Thoroughly washing hands with soap and water (or with alcohol-based hand products, if the hands are not visibly soiled) is a very effective method for inactivating any influenza virus, including HPAI H5N1. These viruses are also inactivated with many common disinfectants such as detergents, 10% household bleach, rubbing alcohol, and other commercial disinfectants.
The public should, as a general rule, observe wildlife, including wild birds, from a distance. Exercising caution protects against possible exposure to pathogens (microorganisms or viruses) that cause disease and minimizes disturbance to the wildlife.
Avoid touching wildlife. If there is contact with wildlife do not rub eyes, eat, drink, or smoke before washing hands with soap and water as described above.
Do not pick up diseased or dead wildlife.
In general, wild or domestic birds with any of the avian influenza virus types may exhibit one or more of the following signs:
Decreased egg production
Sudden death without clinical signs
Swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks
Lack of coordination
More information on highly pathogenic avian influenza is available at:
World Health Organization Avian Influenza Fact Sheet http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/avian_influenza/en/index.html