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The Bird Flu

What is it?
How does it spread?
What's being done to prevent its spread?
Where is the H5N1 virus now?
Should people be concerned?
What precautions can you take?
How do you know if you have H5N1?
Information for Hunters
What are the symptoms in birds?
What do you do if you see a group of sick or dead birds?
The Bird Flu - Quick Facts (pdf, 45kb)
The Bird Flu - What You Need to Know (pdf, 322kb)
Canada goose
What is it?

Bird Flu is the popular name for Avian Influenza (AI). There are many different strains of the virus. The strains are classified as "low pathogenic" or "high pathogenic". These classifications refer to the potential for the viruses to kill poultry, not infect people. The strain that has been in the news most recently is the Asian strain of Avian Influenza, known as H5N1. This is a very deadly strain (highly pathogenic) of virus for chickens and other domestic birds.

It is found mainly in poultry and wild birds, but may be found in some mammals. Only a small number of wild birds are infected with the virus and there are usually few, if any, symptoms that will show in the wild birds. It has never been found in North America and there are no records anywhere that anyone in North America has ever caught the virus from a wild bird or another animal infected with the virus.

The reason that this strain is of such concern is that it has caused illness and some death in people who were in close contact with infected domestic birds in Asia and Turkey. More than 80 species of domestic, wild, captive and experimental birds have been found with the virus. In wild, migrating birds it is most often found in juvenile mallards. Aquatic birds, especially ducks, shore birds and gulls are considered natural reservoirs for avian influenza viruses.

The occurrences of these low pathogen viruses in waterfowl peaks in late summer and early fall. During other times of the year, infection rates are less than 1%. They usually do not develop the viruses, but an outbreak of H5N1 in migratory bar-headed geese and other wild birds was reported in China in 2005. This outbreak among wild geese in China was estimated to have been the cause of the death of 5-10% of the world's bar-headed goose population. In shorebirds, the peak occurrence of avian influenza viruses is during the spring migration. The only outbreak among shorebirds was among common terns in South Africa in 1961.

How does it spread?

The virus is spread through contact with fecal droppings, saliva and nasal discharges of infected animals. It has been a problem mostly with domestic poultry that have been spreading the virus, although some wild birds have also been infected. Low disease-producing avian viruses occur naturally in wild birds throughout the world but when these viruses are mixed into domestic poultry flocks, the virus has the potential to transform into the highly deadly form, H5N1 that is capable of killing chickens, wild birds and potentially infecting people.

There should be little risk from healthy backyard poultry, but to be on the safe side, wash your hands after handling the birds and cook them well.

Commonly Infected Animals
  • Chickens
  • Turkeys
  • Pheasants
  • Quail
  • Ducks
  • Geese
  • Partridges
  • Guinea Fowl
  • Emus
  • Ostriches
  • Rhea
  • Migratory waterfowl
  • Swans
  • Shorebirds
  • Gulls
  • Seabirds
  • Terns

    LessCommonly Infected Animals
  • Pigs
  • Horses
  • Cats
  • Leopards
  • Tigers
  • Marine mammals
  • There is some concern that wild birds may spread the virus into North America as they are migrating. Birds use the same migratory routes every year. North American birds that over-winter or migrate through Asia or Europe may come into contact with infected birds. When they migrate back to North America in the spring to breed, they may come into contact with other birds, potentially transmitting the disease that way. There is also a potential for the virus to spread to North America via humans who have been infected, are traveling with contaminated articles, or who are smuggling birds or poultry products.

    Pet birds are not likely to be a threat and there is a ban on importing birds to the United States from countries where the bird flu has been found so it is unlikely that an infected pet can be purchased from a reputable pet store in the U.S.

    What's being done to prevent its spread?

    Federal and state wildlife agencies are conducting continent-wide wild bird and habitat surveillance for H5N1. In the US, approximately 50,000 wild birds and 25,000 fecal samples will be tested. Surveillance for wild birds will focus on wetland species such as waterfowl, gulls, and shorebirds and include live-trapped birds, hunter-harvested waterfowl, and mortality events.

    New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife is working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture - Wildlife Services to monitor the wild birds in the state. Emphasis in wild bird populations will be put on migratory birds that have a higher chance of carrying the H5N1 virus, especially those birds with the potential to mix with migratory birds from Europe and Asia.

    Countries with Confirmed H5N1 Presence
  • 9 countries in Southeast Asia
  • 8 territories and republics in Russia
  • Up to 5 provinces in Kazakhstan
  • Hosvgol, Mongolia
  • Lhasa, Tibet
  • Turkey
  • Romania
  • Croatia
  • Wild birds will be trapped alive and will have samples taken or hunter-harvested birds will be sampled.1,873 wild birds were collected and tested in New Jersey from the summer of 2006 through March of 2007. Captive pheasants at the state pheasant farm comprised 217 of the birds tested. From summer 2007 through spring 2008, 1,500 birds will be sampled for H5N1 in New Jersey. Sampling will increase during the fall and winter as birds are migrating. In addition, mortality events will be investigated and over 800 fecal samples from birds will be collected and tested.

    The USDA has banned the import of birds or poultry products from any country where H5N1 has been reported. For the past 20 years, the NJ Department of Agriculture, Division of Animal Health has been actively surveying birds for Avian Influenza. Surveyed birds include domestic backyard flocks, birds at livestock and poultry auctions, bird markets and poultry factories. Chances of infected poultry entering a store is low since all poultry is inspected by the USDA and the farms where these birds are raised are being tested for diseases.

    Where is the H5N1 virus now?

    There are an increasing number of reports of infected birds in Asia, Europe and Africa since it was first reported in 1997. It has been the largest and most severe outbreak in poultry ever. Some people in Asia (Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam) and Turkey have been infected with the virus due to close contact with infected domestic birds. As of September 2007, the World Health Organization confirmed 328 cases worldwide, 200 cases of which were fatal.

    Should people be concerned?

    As of right now, there are no reported cases of highly pathogenic H5N1 in humans or birds in North America. There is also no record of wild birds transmitting this virus to humans, but that doesn't mean that it isn't possible. Normally, the virus is passed among the bird species. Humans are most likely to get the virus if they are in very close contact with infected birds (such as at a poultry farm) which is what happened in Asia. There is no report of human to human transmission of the H5N1 virus.

    There is no report of wild birds transmitting the disease to humans. The concern from organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that the virus could mutate into a human virus that would make transmission of the disease from person to person very easy, causing a global influenza threat.

    What precautions can you take?

    • Use rubber gloves when you clean birds or gather eggs.
    • Keep your hands away from your mouth and face when handling birds or eggs.
    • Cook any birds or eggs, whether they are store bought or wild, all the way through. The juices should be clear and there should be no pink meat. Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the meat has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Cook birds at a minimum oven temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Eat smoked birds only if they have been heated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Wash your knife, work area and hands with soap and water after handling birds.
    • Disinfect your work area and knives with a 10% bleach solution.
    • Do not eat, smoke or drink while handling birds - wait until you have washed your hands.
    • If you use feathers in crafts or clothing, make sure they are collected from healthy birds. Feathers can be cleaned using 1 tablespoon of bleach to a quart of water.
    • Observe wildlife from a distance.
    • Avoid touching wildlife, including diseased or dead animals.

    Regular flu shots are not thought to protect you from the bird flu, but they can help prevent the virus from combining with another flu type in your body. If that happens it would make it easier for the bird flu to be transmitted from person to person. There is no vaccine for the bird flu yet, but it is being worked on.

    Antiviral drugs may limit the symptoms and lessen the chance of the virus being transmitted from person to person, but some people have developed a resistance to these antiviral drugs.

    How do you know if you have H5N1?

    The incubation period for the virus is longer than for the seasonal flu. The incubation period may be from 2-8 days, but can possibly be as long as 17 days. It is hard to tell if someone has H5N1 because of the large range of symptoms that present.

    If you feel sick after handling or eating domestic or wild birds, it is important to contact your doctor and let him know that you were in contact with birds or sick animals.

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Eye infections
  • Pneumonia
  • More severe symptoms
  • Information for Hunters

    There have been no findings of the Highly Pathogenic H5N1in New Jersey or North America and there have been no reports of anyone contracting the virus from wild birds anywhere. Although Highly Pathogenic H5N1 is primarily a poultry disease, wild birds appear to play some role in its spread in the Old World. Risk to hunters appears low, but there is no guarantee that there is no risk.

    Water has not been known to transmit any flu virus, but if there were a large number of infected birds in an area with little water flow, high levels of contamination may infect a person if the water is left untreated. Make sure to filter all water since other problems may develop if untreated water is drunk. Water filters that are designed for camping are biological filters that remove bacteria and protozoa. These filters should be used in combination with a disinfectant or by boiling water for at least one minute to remove viral contaminants. Freezing will do nothing to the virus; it can still be dangerous when thawed.

    If you hunt with a dog, there is no evidence that they can contract the virus.

    What are the symptoms in birds?

    Birds infected with the H5N1 virus may exhibit respiratory problems such as coughing, sneezing, swelling around the eyes, ruffled feathers, diarrhea and tremors. Other symptoms include decreased activity, food consumption and egg production. However, these symptoms may indicate another illness.

    What do you do if you see a group of sick or dead birds?

    Remember that Highly Pathogenic H5N1 has not been observed in New Jersey or North America. If you find sick or dead birds, do not handle them. Contact the USDA-Wildlife Services at 1-866-4-USDA-WS to report observations of dead birds.

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    Department of Environmental Protection
    P. O. Box 402
    Trenton, NJ 08625-0402

    Last Updated: October 11, 2007