Asian Bird Flu Information
The following information was provided by Larry Caplan, Extension
Educator -- Horticulture, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.
There has been a lot of discussion in recent months about H5N1 Avian (Bird)
flu. The news media has been covering this intensely, with camera crews
and reporters chasing down every chicken that sneezes. There is a lot of
misinformation floating around, and it's been difficult to tell fact from
fiction. Tonight, it may get even harder to tell what to believe.
On Tuesday, May 9 at 8 p.m., the ABC television network will air a made-for-TV
movie titled “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America.” The movie follows
an outbreak of the H5N1 avian flu virus from its origins in a Hong Kong market
through its mutation into a pandemic virus that becomes easily transmittable
from human to human and spreads rapidly around the world. Among the
story lines featured, several of the movie’s key characters are the
Secretary of Health & Human Services, a CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service
officer, and the Governor of Virginia. More information on the film can
be found on the ABC-TV Website at: http://abc.go.com/movies/birdflu.html
Following is some basic information from the US Health and Human Services (HHS)
to keep in mind.
** The ABC Movie “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America” is a movie, not a
documentary. It is a work of fiction designed to entertain and not a
factual accounting of a real world event.
** There is no influenza pandemic in the world at this time.
** Also, it is important to remember that H5N1 avian influenza is almost
exclusively a disease of birds. The H5N1 virus has not yet appeared in
** Should the H5N1 virus appear in the U.S., it does not mean the start of a
** An additional point to remember is that the next influenza pandemic could
be substantially less severe than what the movie depicts or that occurred in
1918. For example, the influenza pandemics of 1957/58 and 1968/69 caused
so much less illness and death than did the 1918/19 pandemic that many
Americans at that time did not distinguish them from seasonal influenza and
were unaware that a pandemic was underway.
** Don’t be afraid to eat poultry or egg products. With proper cooking and
handling, avian influenza presents no food safety threat.
** American agriculture is not like farming in other countries. American
poultry, for the most part, is raised indoors, in bio-secure environments,
away from migratory birds and other pests that can introduce disease. In other
parts of the world, birds are raised very differently—often within the homes
of people who own them. That increases disease exposure opportunities for the
birds, as well as their handlers. Most of us have little or no contact with
domestic or wild birds on a daily basis.
** While the movie does serve to raise awareness about avian and pandemic flu,
we hope it will inspire preparation – not panic. There are steps
individuals, families and communities can take to prepare. You can keep
a supply of food and medicines on hand in case you have to stay home, you can
practice good public health measures like frequent hand washing and staying
home when sick. There is good information available on www.pandemicflu.gov
Following is a memo from the Indiana Board of
Animal Health, addressing some people's concerns about what to do if they find
a dead bird in their yard:
Wild birds die for a variety of reasons and most wild bird deaths have no
impact on human health.
Natural Death – naturally short life span, severe weather, predators,
competition between species.
Accidental – impacts with power lines, vehicle collisions, aircraft strikes,
impacts with windows or buildings.
1. Legal pest control – three EPA/OISC registered pesticides are used
to manage pest pigeon, starling, or House sparrow problems in Indiana.
The legal application of these products presents no threat to human health and
2. Illegal or accidental pesticide exposure – sometimes people apply
other pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, etc.) incorrectly or the birds
enter a recently treated area before the designated safe re-entry time has
3. Environmental contamination – chemical or other contaminate spills,
leaks, or releases.
4. Spoiled grain crop residues – Crop residues are a primary food
source for many of our wild birds. Bacteria, fungi, and molds can grow
on crop residues left in the field and some of these organisms can cause
5. Dirty bird feeders – the same organisms found in spoiled crop
residues can also be found in backyard bird feeders if they are not kept
Disease – most wild bird diseases present no threat to human health.
However, there are two wild bird-related diseases about which Hoosiers are
1. West Nile Virus – Wild birds serve as an amplifying host for West
Nile virus. Mosquitoes become infected by feeding on infected birds and
then biting humans. Wild birds are also killed by the West Nile virus.
Blue jays, robins, cardinals, crows, and raptors (falcons, hawks, and
owls) are highly sensitive to the virus, and therefore are the best
indicators of West Nile virus activity in a community. They are the
only species of birds that the Indiana State Department of Health
Laboratory is testing for the virus. If you find a dead blue jay, robin,
cardinal, crow, falcon, owl, or hawk during mosquito season
(May – October), please call your local health department (http://www.in.gov/isdh/links/local_dep/index.htm)
and ask them if they would like to pick it up and send it to the State
Laboratory. [In Evansville, the Vanderburgh County Health
Department can be reached at: 812-435-2400]
2. Highly Pathogenic Asian H5N1 (HPAI), commonly
known as Avian Influenza or bird flu is a disease that concerns many people.
Avian Influenza (AI) occurs in North America naturally in a form that does not
infect humans (Low Path AI, or LPAI). The disease that has affected
humans in other countries, HPAI, is not currently found in North America.
In the worldwide wild bird population, AI is most often found in waterbirds,
such as waterfowl (geese, ducks, swans) and shorebirds (sandpiper-type birds).
However, there are no documented cases of the disease ever being
transmitted to humans from wild birds. Wild, migrating birds may
provide one possible route of entry for HPAI into North America.
If the disease is spread by wild birds, the first evidence of HPAI in North
America would be expected to be found in Alaska due to its proximity to the
natural Asian wild bird migration paths. The Indiana Department of Natural
Resources has joined forces with USDA APHIS Wildlife Services in a
state/federal partnership to initiate a pro-active wild waterfowl surveillance
program. This will establish an early warning system for any evidence of
HPAI in our migratory waterfowl. Wildlife Biologists from IDNR and
Wildlife Services will be handling all sampling and monitoring activities for
HPAI in Indiana. Since our resident geese and ducks do not migrate a
significant distance, those waterfowl are not at risk for initial exposure to
HPAI and are not a priority in the surveillance program.
If you find dead migratory geese, ducks, swans, or shorebirds, DO NOT PICK UP
THE BIRDS FOR TESTING. Please call the Wildlife Conflicts Information
Hotline at 1-800-893-4116 to report the location and number of dead waterfowl.
IDNR and Wildlife Services professional staff will determine if testing is
Dead wild birds should not be handled with bare hands. If you do need to
dispose of a dead bird, use gloves or a plastic bag turned inside out over
your hand to pick up the bird, double bag it, and either bury it or dispose of
it in the trash.
For more factual information on Avian flu,
please check out this website:
Extension Disaster Education Network: Avian Influenza:
This site is an index of fact-based articles from Purdue and other
universities, government agencies, and both human and animal health services.
There are over a dozen links on it right now. Some of these links are
very useful for consumers; a few are written specifically for farmers.
If you have any questions about Bird Flu or anything else you might see in the
news or the internet, please contact the Purdue Extension Service. We
can help you separate fact from fiction, and truth from hoax.
Alert is a free service of the Purdue Extension Service of Vanderburgh County.
Back issues of Hort Alert can be downloaded from this web page: [ http://www.ces.purdue.edu/ces/Vanderburgh/horticulture/hortalerts/ ]
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Larry Caplan, Extension Educator -- Horticulture
Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, Vanderburgh County
13301 Darmstadt Rd., Evansville,
Ph: (812) 435-5287 Fax: (812) 867-4944
Larry Caplan, The Magic Gardener
Making Environmental Science Fun and Magical!