Last modified: Monday, September 16, 2013

Wildlife disease in Utah

Avian influenza and wild birds

Avian influenza is common in wild bird populations, but usually affects small numbers of birds and typically causes few, if any, symptoms. The virus is spread through nasal and oral discharges, and fecal droppings. Few bird viruses are able to infect humans, but influenza viruses are able to adapt and change over time. In 1997, a variety of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 virus in Hong Kong was able to spread directly from birds to humans.

Additional information

Report dead birds online

Frequently asked questions

DWR avian influenza brochure
— (PDF format)

General DWR news releases

Links to current information

HPAI H5N1 is very contagious among birds and is deadly to domestic poultry, such as chickens and ducks. Mortality rate in poultry can reach 90 to 100 percent often within 48 hours. Occurrence of the HPAI H5N1 virus in wild migratory birds is most frequent in waterfowl and shorebirds.

History of the H5N1 Virus

Since 2003, the HPAI H5N1 virus has spread across Southeast Asia in domestic poultry. Although large numbers of poultry were destroyed to stop the virus, it reached China and Korea by early 2005.

Most human H5N1 infections resulted from direct handling of infected poultry or contaminated surfaces. Limited person-to-person transmission of the H5N1 virus has been documented, and there are no known cases of human infection from wild birds. Since February 2006, human cases of H5N1 have been reported in many countries and HPAI H5N1 has been reported in poultry and wild birds throughout Asia, Indonesia, and Europe.

There are an increasing number of reports that highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus is infecting and causing death in wild birds, including some species of migratory birds. These events and the associated spread of the HPAI H5N1 virus to new regions in Asia have created concerns about the possibility of the HPAI H5N1 virus being carried into North America by migratory birds. HPAI H5N1 virus has NOT been detected in North America at the present time.

Surveillance for H5N1 in Utah birds by the DWR

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has partnered with several federal and state agencies to implement a nationwide surveillance and monitoring program for HPAI H5N1 virus in wild migratory bird populations. DWR plans on testing birds that are most likely at risk for an HPAI H5N1 outbreak during the coming year. Species targeted for testing will include Tundra Swan, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, and Green-winged Teal. Samples will be collected from hunter-harvested birds at game checking stations during the waterfowl hunt, to detect the presence of HPAI H5N1 virus should it appear in Utah. We are also requesting that any large group of dead waterfowl or shorebirds found by the public be reported to local wildlife authorities immediately (contact information). Report dead birds online.

Recommendations

The general public should observe wildlife, including wild birds, from a distance. This protects you from possible exposure to pathogens and minimizes disturbance to the animal.

photo
Tundra swan
  • Avoid touching wildlife. If there is contact with wildlife, thoroughly wash hands with soap and water.
  • Do not pick up diseased or dead wildlife.
  • Do not handle or eat sick game.
  • Keep your game birds cool, clean and dry.
  • Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning birds, wash hands with soap and water, and thoroughly clean all knives, equipment and surfaces that come in contact with birds. Disinfect using a 10 percent chlorine bleach solution.
  • All game should be thoroughly cooked (well done or 160° F).
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game or handling animals.
  • If handling healthy wild birds, work in well-ventilated areas to decrease the risk of inhaling aerosols such as dust, feathers or dander.
  • Please report any large group of dead waterfowl to local wildlife authorities immediately. Do not handle or pick up dead birds!

Hunter Precautions

Hunters should not be overly concerned about HPAI H5N1 at the present time, but should take common sense precautions about hunting hygiene. Wild migratory birds are not known to spread HPAI H5N1 between regions; there are no known cases of human HPAI H5N1 infection from wild birds; and it is not clear whether HPAI H5N1 is persistent in wild bird populations or whether birds pose a long-distance, long-term risk. Hunters should take these precautions:

  • Do not handle birds that are obviously sick or that are found dead.
  • Do not harvest any animal that appears sick.
  • Keep your game birds cool, clean and dry.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes after dressing birds.
  • Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and/or cleaning birds, and thoroughly wash hands and all knives, equipment and surfaces that come in contact with birds. Disinfect using a 10 percent chlorine bleach solution.
  • All game should be thoroughly cooked (well done or 160° F).
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game or handling animals.

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