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Avian Flu: What Delaware Hunters Should Know


Snow Geese © 2005 K. StienerDNREC Division of Fish & Wildlife

© 2007 Kim Steininger

 Avian influenza (AI) is an infectious disease, primarily of birds. In 2005, the H5N1 strain spread to wild bird populations in regions in Asia and Europe. This has created concerns that this highly pathogenic strain could be carried to North America by migratory birds, including waterfowl.

To date, AI H5N1 (the highly pathogenic strain that has affected humans) has not been found in migratory birds in North America.

At this time, it is uncertain what role migratory birds will have in the spread of AI H5N1.

Cases of human infections of AI from wild birds are extremely rare. No occurrences have been reported from handling live wild birds or hunter-harvested birds. However, direct transmission from wild birds to humans cannot be excluded.

Low pathogen forms of AI are common in wild bird populations. However, these low pathogenic strains usually affect a small number of wild birds and generally do not cause obvious clinical signs of infection. Unlike H5N1, these common low pathogenic forms do not generally put humans at risk.

Viruses – like H5N1 – are shed from birds in fecal matter and other body fluids. Therefore, hunters should avoid/limit contact with these agents while handling, plucking and cleaning birds (see Frequently Asked Questions above for more information). Most viruses do not live very long after they have left their hosts, and can be neutralized with heat, drying and disinfectants. But they persist in cold, fresh water and even when frozen. 

Hunters and others should report groups of sick or dead wild birds, but should not touch, handle or move them. For more information, call the wildlife management team in your county:

New Castle County
Augustine Wildlife Area – 302-834-8433

Kent County
Wildlife Section, Division of Fish & Wildlife
302-739-9912 or
Norman G. Wilder Wildlife Area – 302-284-1077

Sussex County
Assawoman Wildlife Area – 302-539-3160

Delaware duck hunters 
asked to take H5N1 survey

The University of Georgia and the Georgia's Division of Public Health are conducting a study about avian influenza viruses, including frequency and nature of human exposures to potentially-infected waterfowl and their environments. Georgia is collecting water and virus specimens from throughout the country, intending to compare data from states with larger numbers of migratory waterfowl and hunters, such as Delaware, to states with smaller numbers of migratory waterfowl, such as Georgia. As part of the study, waterfowl hunters are asked to an online survey by clicking here. The survey can be completed anonymously, and does not require any identifying information, such as name, phone number, or address. 

Surveillance for AI (H5N1) in Delaware Birds

Beginning in June, 2006, as part of a national effort, DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife conducted surveillance of wild birds for the AI virus. Approximately 1,000 waterfowl and shorebirds from Delaware were sampled and tested for AI. Sampling methods included capture of live birds, investigating morbidity and mortality events, and testing sentinel flocks.

DNREC's surveillance plan will assist in the national effort to monitor wild bird populations, and if deemed necessary, will be expanded or modified.

DNREC’s surveillance work complements local research already underway on captive-raised waterfowl by Ohio State University and on shorebirds through the University of Georgia.

In addition, the Delaware Department of Agriculture and the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources will monitor and test the state’s poultry flocks for the disease.

Links to more Avian Flu Information:

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