Last modified: Monday, September 16, 2013

Wildlife disease in Utah

Avian influenza and wild birds

Frequently asked questions

Question: Is there any risk of becoming infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 virus by feeding backyard birds or cleaning a bird feeder?

Answer: There is currently no evidence that suggests you could become infected with the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 virus by feeding backyard birds. HPAI H5N1 has NOT been documented in North America at the present time. Generally, songbirds, or perching birds, (Passeriformes) are the primary type of birds at feeders. While there are rare cases of HPAI H5N1 causing death in some Passeriformes, most of the wild birds that are traditionally associated with avian influenza viruses are waterfowl and shorebirds. Songbirds are susceptible to other avian diseases. Therefore, it is recommended that people who feed birds routinely clean their feeders and bird baths, and anyone who comes in direct contact with bird droppings should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water (cleaning a bird feeder; Songbird Diseases Encountered at Bird Feeders).

Question: Can humans catch avian influenza from wild birds?

Answer: There are no known cases where highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 has been passed from wild birds to humans, but direct transmission from wild birds to humans may be possible.

Question: How could HPAI H5N1 arrive in North America?

Answer: Migratory birds, particularly waterfowl and shorebirds, cross the Bering Sea between Alaska and Asia during their seasonal cycles of breeding, molting, and wintering. Some species breed in North America and cross the Bering Sea to molt during summer or to winter along the Asian coast. Other species breed in Russia and migrate to wintering grounds in North America. Utah falls on the borders of the Pacific and the Central flyways, which are major routes of travel used by birds when migrating between breeding and wintering grounds in North America. It is still not know if these migrants will acquire the HPAI H5N1 virus in Asia, how persistent HPAI H5N1 virus is in wild bird populations, or whether migratory birds can become long distance carriers.

Question: How concerned should hunters be about HPAI H5N1?

Answer: Hunters should not be overly concerned about HPAI H5N1 at the present time, but should follow routine precautions when handling game. 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 wild birds pose a long-distance, long-term risk.

Question: Does the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources have a surveillance program for H5N1?

Answer: The 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 the following species: Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, and Tundra Swan, during the coming year, mainly from field checks of hunter-harvested waterfowl, to detect the presence of the HPAI H5N1 virus should it appear in Utah. We are also requesting that any large group of dead waterfowl found by the public be reported to local wildlife authorities immediately (contact information). Report dead birds online.

Question: What will the Division of Wildlife Resources do if a bird tests positive for H5N1 in Utah?

Answer: There are several strains of avian influenza that are found in wild birds. Dependent on the strain of avian influenza that is detected, the Division of Wildlife Resources will activate a response plan that consists of monitoring and testing of additional migratory birds. A positive surveillance zone will be established, consisting of a five- to 10-mile radius around the site, and wild birds will be monitored for mortality. Fresh dead carcasses will be collected and tested for HPAI H5N1 virus. The killing and removal of wild birds to control an epizootic disease outbreak is not an effective disease control procedure, when attempted in the past. Therefore, this will not be implemented as a control measure for HPAI H5N1.

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