Experts tell Alaskans how to handle wildfowl most likely to carry avian flu virus

Very good article in todays Anchorage Daily News by ANN POTEMPA. Photo by SUBHANKAR BANERJEE / The Associated Press.

Bird biologists are targeting 28 species of waterfowl and shorebirds flying to Alaska this spring and summer in one of the country's largest projects looking for the H5N1 bird flu virus.

Their goal is to study about 15,000 eiders, geese and other wild birds once they arrive in Alaska. Many will be caught live, studied and let go. Others will be examined after they've been hunted and killed.

"It's going to be a challenge," said Tom Rothe, waterfowl coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "Nothing's been done on this scale before to capture so many live birds."

The 28 bird species given priority in Alaska were ranked according to their presence and population size in Asia and Alaska, their proximity to areas where H5N1 has been detected, habitats and likelihood of getting a representative sample through catching and testing the birds, said Bruce Woods, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. One of the main ways to test these birds for H5N1 is to swab their anal openings and test the specimen.

This work will be done by trained professionals, but government officials are asking all Alaskans to be on the lookout. People who see sick or dead birds that appear unusual in any way should call a new state hot line: 1-866-527-3358. They can call about suspicious birds of any species, not just the 28 given priority by biologists.

Read the rest of the article here.
Photo by BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News