Avian Influenza FAQs


There have been a lot of stories in the news about avian influenza, or the bird flu virus. Here are some facts that many news stories don’t make clear:

What is avian influenza or bird flu?

Avian influenza is a common infection in birds caused by Type A influenza viruses. These flu viruses occur naturally among birds. Wild birds worldwide carry the viruses, but usually do not get sick from them. However, the strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) referred to as H5N1, is highly contagious among birds and is deadly to poultry, such as chickens and domestic ducks.

How serious is H5N1 bird flu?

The H5N1 bird flu is still a disease primarily of birds. However, cases of human infection and death from H5N1 have occurred in Asia. Still, it only rarely infects humans. Cases of transmission to humans are from people directly handling infected domestic poultry, and through contact with virus-contaminated surfaces or materials. Nonetheless, because all influenza viruses have the ability to change or mutate, scientists are concerned that the H5N1 virus may one day change and be able to more easily infect humans and spread from one person to another.  

Has bird flu been found in Oklahoma?
No. The highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu has not been found in Oklahoma or anywhere in North America.  

Can humans catch bird flu from wild birds? 
There are no documented cases of human H5N1 disease resulting from contact with wild birds. Also, remember as of this date, highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza has not been found in North America. If it arrives in North America, H5N1 is more likely to be transported by people who are infected, or through virus-contaminated articles or illegally imported birds or bird products.  

Should bird hunters be concerned about H5N1?
 Hunters should not be overly concerned at the present time because H5N1 bird flu has not been found yet in North America and there are no known cases where avian influenza has been passed from wild birds to humans. Hunters are encouraged to stay informed and educated on this issue and should take common sense hygiene precautions while hunting and cleaning birds because direct transmission from wild birds to humans cannot be excluded. 

How can I protect myself from potential bird diseases while hunting or cleaning game?
The following suggestions are common sense precautions that hunters should follow when hunting:

1. Do not handle birds that are obviously sick or birds found dead.
2. Keep your game birds cool, clean, and dry.
3. Use rubber gloves when cleaning birds
4. Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning your birds.
5. Wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes after dressing birds.
6. Clean all tools and surfaces immediately afterward; use hot soapy water, then disinfect
with a 10% chlorine bleach solution.
7. Cook game meat thoroughly (165°F) to kill disease organisms and parasites. 

Are hunting dogs at risk of getting avian flu?
Dogs used for hunting game birds are not considered at risk of acquiring the highly pathogenic H5N1. Dog owners should consult their veterinarian for more information about influenza in pets. 

What is being done to detect bird flu in wild birds?
Although wild migratory birds are not known to spread H5N1 between regions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center began monitoring migratory birds in Alaska during the summer of 2005. Alaska is one of the likely points for the disease to enter into North America because some migratory birds, particularly waterfowl and shorebirds, move between Alaska and Asia. In cooperation with a national monitoring effort, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation teamed up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Wildlife Services beginning in 2006 to annually more than 1,500 wild migratory birds in Oklahoma for H5N1. To date, thousands of waterfowl and shorebird samples have been analyzed and no evidence of the H5N1 bird flu has been discovered anywhere in North America.

What should I do if I find sick or dead birds?
Wild birds regularly die from a variety of causes including disease, accidents and predators.

A. If single dead songbirds such as robins and sparrows that typically are not susceptible to avian influenza are found, these do not need to be reported. Dead birds should not be handled, or if necessary, only handled wearing rubber gloves or by picking up with a shovel and then properly disposed of by burying.
B. If groups of dead or sick birds are encountered, especially waterfowl, shorebirds or other waterbirds, do not handle or disturb the birds and contact the Department of Wildlife Conservation at (405) 521-2739.

Where can I go for more information on bird flu?
Oklahoma State Department of Health’s web site www.health.state.ok.us

U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center’s web site http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/disease_information/avian_influenza/index.jsp