Release Date: 11/14/2006

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) is actively involved in an Avian Flu Early Detection Surveillance System to check for this virus in wild waterfowl and shorebirds as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA)  avian influenza monitoring network. 

LDWF's Avian Flu Early Detection Surveillance System consists of collecting 1,000 waterfowl and shorebird cloacal swabs prior to and during the waterfowl hunting season as part of the broader Mississippi Flyway Avian Flu Surveillance Plan.  LDWF has targeted species most likely to mingle with birds from Asia on breeding grounds or migration routes and transport the virus down the Mississippi Flyway to Louisiana.  LDWF has already collected shorebirds and will sample ducks and geese harvested on public hunting areas this fall to collect the swabs.  Those swabs are then sent to the Louisiana State University Veterinarian School for testing. 

"This early detection system is a proactive approach to an unlikely problem," said Robert Helm, LDWF's waterfowl study leader.  "The possibility of the disease arriving in Louisiana or North America via migrating birds is unknown, but the risk to bird hunters is expected to be very low.  This monitoring system should give the public the confidence of knowing that the bird hunting opportunities in this state are safe."

Avian flu has two different types based on pathogenicity, which is the ability of the virus to produce a disease.  The Low Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (LPAI) strain causes few clinical signs in infected birds and generally does not pose a threat to humans.  The High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI) strain is frequently fatal to the bird and is easily transmissible between susceptible bird species.  The HPAI strain can pass from bird to bird and rarely from bird to human, but it is not considered a pandemic virus because it cannot pass from human to human.

The strain that is currently of concern in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa is the HPAI H5N1 virus. HPAI H5N1 strain has caused 156 human deaths from 2003 to Oct. 31, 2006.  Those people were from third world countries and presumably contracted the virus via unsanitary handling of infected domestic poultry. 

The spread of the virus across Asia and Europe has raised fears it might spread into new areas including North America and pose potential danger to those who handle wild birds, including hunters.  LDWF wants to reassure bird hunters that at this point the HPAI strain has not been found in the state of Louisiana or North America.  Indeed, nearly 600 cloacal swabs taken by LDWF and USDA from primarily long-billed dowitchers, Baird's sandpipers, least sandpipers, wood ducks, and blue-winged teal have been tested and have shown no evidence of the virus.  The sampling effort nation-wide is 50 percent complete at this time, and not a single sample has tested positive for HPAI H5N1.

So be prepared, not scared.  LDWF would like to again remind the public when handling birds to adhere to the following guidelines:

 Do not handle birds that are obviously sick or birds found dead.
 Wear rubber or disposable latex gloves while handling and cleaning game, wash hands with soap and water or with alcohol-based hand products, and thoroughly clean knives, equipment and surfaces that come in contact with game.
 Do not eat, drink or smoke while handling or cleaning birds.
 Cook all game meat to at least an internal temperature of 155 degrees to kill disease organisms and parasites.

For more information on avian influenza, visit the LDWF's Web site at www.wlf.louisiana.gov.

For more information, contact Robert Helm at 225-765-2358 or rhelm@wlf.louisiana.gov.