Tuesday, November 21, 2006

VGDIF Conducts Surveillance for Avian Infuenza in Waterfowl

Julia Dixon 11/20/06 3:01 PM
For Immediate Release
November 20, 2006

Contact: Bob Ellis
Telephone: 804-367-6482
Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Conducts Surveillance for Avian Influenza in Waterfowl

Richmond, VA -- The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) is collecting samples from waterfowl as part of a nation-wide effort to monitor birds for the highly pathogenic Asian strain of H5N1 avian influenza. This surveillance is part of a national monitoring strategy, The U.S. Interagency Strategic Plan: An Early Detection System for Asian H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Wild Migratory Birds, developed by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Interior.

VDGIF is working cooperatively with the Virginia office of the USDA Wildlife Services to collect samples from shorebirds and waterfowl in Virginia. Waterfowl species that are being sampled include tundra swan, mute swan, snow goose, Atlantic brant, and mallards. These species have been selected based on their potential to migrate from Alaska or the Greenland/Northeastern corridor, or their potential to be in contact with species that migrate from these areas. Samples are being collected from both live-trapped and hunter-harvested birds.

Low pathogenic strains of avian influenza have been around for a long time and are common in certain wild bird populations, especially waterfowl and shorebirds. These low pathogenic strains generally do not cause obvious signs of infection in birds nor do they pose a risk to humans. The highly pathogenic Asian strain of H5N1 is different and unusual in that it has caused outbreaks of illness and death in various wild bird species.

This strain was first detected in Asia 1997, and by 2003 had spread across Southeast Asia. Although large numbers of poultry were destroyed to stop the virus, it reached China and Korea by early 2005. Outbreaks have now been reported in other parts of Asia, as well as Russia, Europe, and Africa. People can become infected with this strain of H5N1 avian influenza virus; however, the virus is not easily contracted by people.

Most of the human cases have occurred in poultry handlers working in unsanitary conditions. To date, the highly pathogenic strain of Asian H5N1 has not been found in North America, and hunters should not be overly concerned about H5N1 at this time. However, hunters should take common sense precautions when handling birds. Recommended bird handling procedures include: Do not handle birds that are obviously sick or birds found dead. Keep your game birds cool, clean and dry. Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning your birds. Use rubber gloves when cleaning game. Wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes after dressing
> birds. Clean all tools and surfaces immediately afterward; use hot soapy water, then disinfect with a 10% chlorine bleach solution. Cook game meat thoroughly (155-165* F) to kill disease organisms and parasites.

VGDGIF is asking for cooperation from waterfowl hunters in obtaining samples from birds they harvest during the hunting season. Department staff will be out in the field sampling birds at Wildlife Management Areas and popular hunting areas and boat ramps. If hunters see VDGIF staff, they are asked to please assist in these efforts and allow birds to be sampled. The sample procedure consists of a simple cloacal swab and only takes a few seconds to obtain. In addition, if a hunting party has had a successful day and has taken three or more of one of the target species (brant, tundra swan, mute swan, mallard, and snow goose) the Department can send someone to sample the birds. Simply call 1-804-367-1258 to make those arrangements.
Hunters can also assist by reporting any unusual sickness or deaths (die-offs of 5 or more birds) in waterfowl or shorebirds observed. If you see such a die-off, do not pick up the birds. Document the location of the birds and immediately contact the Department at (804) 367-1258 or one of our Regional Offices. If you see only 1 or 2 dead birds, it's probably not cause for alarm, and you do not need to call the Department. However, if you see additional dead birds in the same area in the following days, it could be an indication of a problem, and you should let us know.
More information about the Department's surveillance plans and avian influenza can be found at the following Web sites:
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
National Wildlife Health Center:
Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study:
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