Avian Flu FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about Avian Flu
Here are answers to frequently asked questions compiled from several Web sites including the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health Canada Laboratory Centre for Disease Control.

Is it safe to watch birds, feed birds, and monitor nest boxes?
Source: Cornell Lab or Ornithology – November 21, 2006

Yes. Based on all current information, it’s safe to watch wild birds in North America, as well as to feed them, attract them to your yard, and even handle wild birds as wildlife biologists and rehabilitators do.

To date, the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus has not been found in birds or people in North America. Even in areas where the virus has been found, there have been no documented reports of humans contracting the virus from wild birds, except for an unconfirmed report that patients in Azerbaijan may have become ill after de-feathering swans. (NOTE: see revised information on page 4)

In most cases, humans have become infected after close contact with diseased poultry, products, or contaminated surfaces, i.e., close contact with large amounts of virus shed by infected birds. This is very different from how bird watchers and biologists interact with birds.

As always, to avoid contracting any illness from wild birds, you should wash your hands thoroughly after handling bird feeders, bird nests, birdbaths, or water contaminated by bird droppings. Avoid touching bird droppings or dead birds. If you must move a dead bird, use disposable gloves or double plastic bags.

Which countries have been affected by outbreaks in poultry?
Source: World Health Organization – November 21, 2006

Since 2003, outbreaks of the H5N1 virus in poultry and/or wild birds have been reported in over 50 countries: Republic of Korea, Viet Nam, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkey, Romania, Croatia, Ukraine, Iraq, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Iran, Austria, Germany, Egypt, India, France, Hungary, Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Niger, Switzerland, Albania, Serbia-Montenegro, Poland, Cameroon, Myanmar, Denmark, Sweden, Afghanistan, Israel, Pakistan, Jordan, Czech Republic, Burkina Faso, UK, Sudan, Cote d’ Ivoire.

Where have human cases occurred?
Source: World Health Organization – November 21, 2006

In the current outbreak, laboratory-confirmed human cases have been reported only in 10 countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, China, Turkey, Iraq, Djibouti, Azerbaijan and Egypt.

How many human cases have been confirmed?
Source: World Health Organization – November 21, 2006

As of November 13, 2006, 258 cases of Avian Influenza have been confirmed resulting in 153 deaths. Updates can be found at the WHO Web site listed above.

How do people become infected?
Source: World Health Organization – November 21, 2006

Direct contact with infected poultry, or surfaces and objects contaminated by their feces, is presently considered the main route of human infection. To date, most human cases have occurred in rural areas where many households keep small poultry flocks, which often roam freely, sometimes entering homes or sharing outdoor areas where children play. As infected birds shed large quantities of virus in their feces, opportunities for exposure to infected droppings or to environments contaminated by the virus are abundant under such conditions. Moreover, because many households in Asia depend on poultry for income and food, many families sell or slaughter and consume birds when signs of illness appear in a flock, and this practice has proved difficult to change. Exposure is considered most likely during slaughter, de-feathering, butchering, and preparation of poultry for cooking.

Does the virus spread easily from birds to humans?
Source: World Health Organization – November 21, 2006

No. Though more than 200 human cases have occurred in the current outbreak, this is a small number compared with the huge number of birds affected and the numerous associated opportunities for human exposure, especially in areas where backyard flocks are common. It is not presently understood why some people, and not others, become infected following similar exposure.

Has the H5N1 virus been found in North America?
Source: USGS National Wildlife Health Center – November 21, 2006

Researchers have no evidence that the Asian strains of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 are present in wild birds or poultry in the North American continent.

Can humans catch avian influenza from wild birds?
Source: USGS National Wildlife Health Center – November 21, 2006

While currently there are unconfirmed reports of people being infected with H5N1 from dead wild birds, exposure to domestic and wild birds potentially infected with H5N1 should be avoided.
The only documented cases of transmission to humans are from poultry; these cases include both highly pathogenic and low pathogenic strains of avian influenza.
At the present time, close contact with infected domestic poultry has been the primary way that people have become infected with the HPAI H5N1 virus.

Can a person become infected with avian influenza A (H5N1) virus by cleaning a bird feeder?
Source: : PandemicFlu.gov - November 21, 2006

There is no evidence of highly pathogenic H5N1 having caused disease in birds or people in the United States. At the present time, there is no risk of becoming infected with H5N1 virus from bird feeders in the United States. Generally, perching birds (Passeriformes) are the predominate type of birds at feeders. While there are documented cases of H5N1 causing death in some perching birds, none occurred in the U.S. and most of the wild birds that are traditionally associated with avian influenza viruses are waterfowl and shore birds. Hand washing and other recommended handling practices will also help to reduce risk associated with potentially contaminated birds or materials.

Is H5N1 going to evolve into a strain of pandemic influenza?
Source: Health Canada Laboratory Centre for Disease Control – November 21, 2006

We don't know for sure whether or not H5N1 will evolve into a pandemic strain but it has shown the ability to mutate so it is a concern. Influenza viruses are constantly changing over time and it is possible that changes in the virus currently affecting Vietnam and Thailand can result in a virus that is more efficiently transmissible to and among humans. While there have recently been changes in the virus, there is currently no indication that the virus has changed to a form that could result in a pandemic. This possibility is being closely monitored.

How will we know if H5N1 is becoming a pandemic strain?
Source: Health Canada Laboratory Centre for Disease Control – November 21, 2006

If H5N1, or any other strain of avian influenza, were to evolve into a pandemic strain of influenza, we expect, based on the scientific research that's been done, that we would see efficient and sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus. This means we would see a large and growing number of new and unrelated cases increasing daily which, to date, has not been the case.

What will happen if the Avian Flu virus is detected in the United States?
Source: Cornell Lab or Ornithology – November 21, 2006

Even if the virus is detected here, it would be no cause for panic. Detection of the virus does not signal the start of a pandemic among humans. The highly pathogenic H5N1 virus is not easily transmissible between migratory birds and humans or from one human to another, so prevention efforts would focus on keeping wild birds away from poultry and eradicating the virus immediately from poultry flocks if found.

Are wild birds spreading the disease to new areas?
Source: Cornell Lab or Ornithology – November 21, 2006

In most cases so far, wild birds have appeared to contract the disease from poultry rather than vice-versa. Once infected, however, wild birds are capable of carrying the virus with them when they migrate, causing concern that they could infect poultry flocks elsewhere.

Infection by poultry can cause outbreaks in wild birds. In outbreaks among wild birds, such as those reported in Azerbaijan, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, and other countries in autumn 2005, the birds may have contracted the virus from infected poultry flocks in the Black Sea region, then dispersed to warmer regions, carrying the virus with them.

So far, however, there does not appear to be widespread transmission of the virus along migratory bird routes. Most migratory bird populations appear to be healthy, except in isolated areas where outbreaks have occurred.

One concern is that the high pathogenicity H5N1 virus has been detected in some apparently healthy wild ducks, indicating that some birds may carry the virus without obvious symptoms. However, tests of migratory birds show that high pathogenicity H5N1 is not common or widespread. Only 6 of more than 13,000 wild birds tested in China have tested positive. There have been no other cases in 100,000 tests of healthy wild birds elsewhere in the world.

Should wild birds be culled?
Source: Cornell Lab or Ornithology – November 21, 2006

No. Officials from the World Health Organization, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health agree that culling wild birds is unlikely to stop the spread of disease. Control measures should be focused on the poultry industry because it is among crowded poultry flocks in close contact with humans that the virus is most likely to mutate to more harmful forms and spread to humans and other wildlife.

For these same reasons, destroying an entire ecosystem by draining wetlands would be completely unwarranted. Draining wetlands could also increase the dangers for wild birds by taking away important refuge areas, causing them to become stressed and more susceptible to disease when forced to move to new, possibly more crowded, areas. If infected birds are forced to disperse, it could also increase the likelihood that they would bring the virus to new areas.

What do I do if I find a dead wild bird?
Source: United State Department of Agriculture – November 21, 2006

There are many instances every year when birds, mainly waterfowl and shorebirds, become sick or die from a variety of causes, such as trauma, predation, avian botulism or avian cholera. USDA along with the U.S. Department of the Interior and state wildlife agencies routinely investigate these events if large numbers of birds are impacted. Investigating sick or dead wild bird events serves as an effective tool for the early detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

If you notice sick or dead birds, please contact your local USDA Wildlife Services office at 1-866-4-USDA-WS.

It is safe to watch birds, feed birds, and monitor nest boxes.”

-- Cornel University Lab of Ornithology

WBFI is committed to keeping you and your family safe and informed about issues that may affect the hobby of bird feeding. Your safety and the health of wildlife are our primary concern.

WBFI is actively researching and monitoring the Avian Influenza issue with leading experts from around the world. We will stay on top of the situation, and we pledge to keep you informed of any developments of concern.

By way of background, here is what we know today from qualified sources such as Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization and Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

There has not been a case of the H5N1 Avian Flu strain in wild birds in North America
The H5N1 strain has not been known to be transmitted by live wild birds to people
No one has ever contracted avian flu from the wild birds in their yards.
Activities such as bird watching and feeding garden birds are completely safe
If you want the facts about the Avian Influenza issue, we encourage you to go to:

Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian

World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/en/

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/birdflu

PandemicFlu.gov: http://www.pandemicflu.gov/index.html

Bird feeding is still a wonderful and safe hobby to enjoy in the refuge of your own backyard. Do not miss out on the joy of feeding the birds.

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