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Avian Influenza in Wild Birds

Avian Influenza Viruses

Avian influenza viruses (AIV) occur globally in wild birds, especially in waterfowl. AIV is usually in wild species but occasionally the virus may be spread to domestic poultry, where they can develop into strains that cause significant mortality.

H5N1 AIV is a highly transferable strain found in wild and domestic birds in Europe, Asia and Africa. It can affect people who come in close contact with birds. Although there is no evidence to suggest that this strain is in North America, the mixing of Eurasian and North American birds in Arctic breeding areas could result in the strain coming into Saskatchewan with migrating wild birds in late summer and fall.

Avian Influenza in Saskatchewan

In September 2007, H7N3, a strain of AIV that is not associated with human illness, was detected in a commercial poultry operation in Saskatchewan. As of April 25, 2008, Saskatchewan has been declared free of high pathogenic avian influenza in the commercial poultry operations by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

National Inter-Agency Wild Bird Influenza Survey

The Government of Saskatchewan has participated in the National Inter-Agency Wild Bird Influenza Survey since 2006. Saskatchewan's Ministry of Environment takes an active role in the dead wild bird survey and encourages field officers to target their investigation and collection of dead wild birds based on a priority approach for waterfowl and water bird mortality.

Safe Handling Procedures for Dead Birds

AIV is shed in the fecal droppings, saliva and nasal discharges of birds, so you should avoid direct or indirect contact with these body fluids and secretions. There is very low risk of contracting avian influenza without having direct, significant and prolonged contact with infected birds. You can minimize that risk even further by following the instructions provided here for safe handling of dead birds.

Public

If you have direct or indirect contact with birds or their bodily fluids, follow with thorough cleansing with soap and water, or rinsing with alcohol-based hand products (containing >60 per cent alcohol) if hands are not visibly soiled.

If handling dead birds, wear heavy-duty rubber gloves, dish gloves, latex plastic gloves, or double latex gloves. You may also use leak-proof plastic bags as gloves.

When picking up dead birds, ensure that the bird's bill and claws do not puncture the bag or gloves.

Birds should be double bagged using clean garbage bags, sealed and kept cool or frozen until they can be dropped off at a Ministry of Environment office or at the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC). Collect and submit the specimen with appropriate information, such as:

  • location where the bird was found;
  • species;
  • estimated number of dead species; and
  • finder's contact information.

Dispose of or wash gloves afterwards with soap and water. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water or with alcohol-based hand products.

Hunters

You can safely hunt, handle and eat healthy game birds; however, follow routine precautions:

  • Do not handle or consume sick birds, or birds that have died from unknown causes;
  • Avoid direct contact (skin or mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth) with blood, feces and respiratory secretions of all wild birds;
  • Do not rub eyes, eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning, defeathering or removing the contents of game;
  • Ideally, wear dish gloves or latex/plastic gloves when cleaning, defeathering and removing the contents of game;
  • Wash gloves, hands and clothing with soap and warm water immediately after processing game;
  • Wash tools, work surfaces, and other equipment with soap and warm water, then with a 10 per cent solution of household bleach - just the same as you would after handling raw chicken;
  • Cook game meat thoroughly, to an internal temperature of approximately 70º C (160º F). Observe good food safety practices;
  • If you become ill while handling birds or shortly thereafter, see your doctor. Inform your doctor that you have been in contact with wild birds; and
  • For public health reasons, people who frequently handle wild birds should consider annual vaccinations against seasonal human influenza. This will not protect people from avian influenza, but it will reduce the likelihood of a person becoming infected with both human and avian influenza strains simultaneously. This reduces opportunities for viral reassortment and mutation that would allow a highly pathogenic avian influenza to become a highly transferable human influenza.

Report and Submit Dead Birds

The Ministry of Environment leads the collection and shipment of dead birds to the CWHC in Saskatoon. The Inter-Agency Wild Bird Influenza Survey 2008 has set a target number for the dead bird survey in Saskatchewan at 500 wild birds.

Field officers will only go and pick up carcasses of dead wild birds if the mortality found or reported fits the following criteria:

  • Bird species that use aquatic or wetland habitats, especially waterfowl and water birds;
  • Mortality that appears unusual for the region and locations;
  • Mortality involving more than one species of wild birds;
  • Mortality involving notable number of wild birds (more than five); and
  • Mortality from May until fall.

For all other wild birds found dead, the public may submit the specimens either directly to the CWHC situated in Saskatoon, or drop off the specimen(s) (double-bagged and labeled appropriately) at any Ministry of Environment field office during regular office hours. Collect and submit the specimen with appropriate information, such as:

  • location where the bird was found;
  • species;
  • estimated number of dead species; and
  • finder's contact information.

Dispose of or wash gloves afterwards with soap and water. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water or with alcohol-based hand products.

For further information, please contact:

Katherine Mehl
Ph: 306-933-5040

Erin Moffatt
CWHC National Office
Ph: 306-966-5099
AIV Hotline (toll-free): 1-866-544-4744
Email: mailto:minfo@cwhc-rcsf.ca
cwhc-rcsf.ca

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