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:  .

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 the U.S.

** Should the H5N1 virus appear in the U.S., it does not mean the start of a pandemic.

** 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 .

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.

            a)  Natural Death – naturally short life span, severe weather, predators, competition between species.

            b)  Accidental – impacts with power lines, vehicle collisions, aircraft strikes, impacts with windows or buildings.

            c)  Toxicants –

                        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 safety.

                        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 passed.

                        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 mortality.

                        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 clean.

            d)  Disease – most wild bird diseases present no threat to human health.  However, there are two wild bird-related diseases about which Hoosiers are most worried.                   

                        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 ( 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 necessary.

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.

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Larry Caplan, Extension Educator -- Horticulture
Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, Vanderburgh County

13301 Darmstadt Rd., Evansville, IN  47725
Ph:  (812) 435-5287     Fax:  (812) 867-4944

Larry Caplan, The Magic Gardener
Making Environmental Science Fun and Magical!