Delaware Hunters Asked to Help Monitor Bird Flu

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The Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife and the USDA are working together to monitor Delaware's wild bird population as part of a nationwide surveillance strategy to detect the presence of avian influenza – and, beginning with the opening day of duck season Oct. 26, Delaware hunters can help by participating in bird testing programs.

Avian influenza (AI) – also called "bird flu" – is a virus that infects wild birds such as ducks, gulls and shorebirds, and domestic poultry such as chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese. Like humans, birds can catch flu viruses, with some strains being worse than others. AI strains are divided into two levels of severity: low pathogenic and high pathogenic.

Low path avian influenza naturally occurs in wild birds and in most cases causes no signs of infection or only mild symptoms, with little threat to humans. High path avian influenza spreads more rapidly, is often fatal in chickens and turkeys and has been found to infect humans who have been in close proximity to or handled diseased birds. Recent bird flu concerns are centered on the Asian lineage H5N1 strain of high path avian influenza (Asian Bird Flu), the strain responsible for numerous avian deaths as well as 331 human cases, with 203 resulting in death. Most of these occurred in Asia, with some also in Africa and Europe.

High path Asian lineage H5N1 has not yet been found in the U.S. However, USDA scientists, in cooperation with state agencies all over the U.S., are closely monitoring wild birds in case the virus does appear in the U.S. Early detection is key to minimizing the spread of the virus to domestic poultry. Under this cooperative program, Delaware Fish and Wildlife officials are asking hunters to take a few minutes at check stations to allow samples to be taken from their wild birds for testing.

"Sampling involves taking both a fecal and a saliva swab of each bird. The bird is then returned to the hunter, completely unharmed for consumption or taxidermy purposes. The whole process takes no more than five or 10 minutes," said Rob Hossler, Division of Fish and Wildlife Program Manager for Game Species.

Samples are then taken to be tested at the University of Delaware, which has one of about 50 labs in the U.S. with the equipment and expertise to perform the specific AI testing required. Findings are then reported to the USDA, which will confirm any presence of AI at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. All information, including bird species and gender as well as test results, will be added to the USDA’s national data base.

"The most severe form of avian influenza has not been found in wild or domestic birds in Delaware or the U.S.," Hossler said. "Hunting wild birds is safe, but hunters should be informed and educated about AI."

As with any wild game, the USDA recommends hunters take some common sense precautions in handling and consuming wild birds:

  • • Do not handle or eat obviously sick birds.
  • • Always wash your hands after handling birds.
  • • Disinfect your cleaning equipment and cleaning surfaces.
  • • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game.
  • • Cook meat thoroughly to 165 degrees.
  • • Report any unusual or large die-offs of wild birds to local wildlife officials or the USDA.

For more information or to report any unusual or large die-offs of wild birds, please call the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 302-735-3600, or the USDA at 866-4-USDA-WS. To learn more about avian influenza online, visit www.dnrec.delaware.gov/Info/AvianFluFacts.htm or www.usda.gov/birdflu.