For Release October 8, 2006

Avian Influenza - What's the Real Risk?


by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

I'm going to tell you right up front that you are going to hear a lot about avian influenza during the coming months. Unfortunately, between the scientists, the media and perhaps a few fear based groups, there is far more mis-information than solid facts out there.

Let us not confuse avian influenza with an influenza pandemic that is also being talked about. Avian influenza will probably show up somewhere in North America in 2006 or 2007. But this, in and of itself, is not a flu pandemic and should NOT cause excessive alarm or panic. A flu pandemic could come from any one of a number of sources, including a mutated form of the avian influenza, and is something to be very concerned about.

For a flu pandemic to occur you need to have an extremely virulent influenza virus that spreads from person to person very easily. While the current high pathogenicity H5N1 virus is extremely virulent, it does not move from poultry to humans easily and has not learned how to move readily from person to person, except, apparently in one or two cases.

Now let's talk about avian influenza. Flu viruses are named based on the protein and chemical makeup of them, hence the H5N1 is sort of a genetic fingerprint. But not all H5N1 viruses are the same. You will real about HPAI and LPAI in the news and on the web. Those refer to High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza and Low Pathogenicity Avian Influenza. HPAI is the nasty Asian H5N1 that has been in all the news.

LPAI or low pathogenicity H5N1 has currently been found in waterfowl in several locations in the United States this year. It is not as "nasty" as the HPAI. Many poultry survive in the wild with it. It pops up in chicken production from time to time. When it is found, poultry barns are depopulated, and the facilities disinfected. The barns are then repopulated and everything goes on just fine.

Federal and State Wildlife agencies have been very busy all summer capturing wild waterfowl and testing them for HPAI. Thousands of ducks and geese in Alaska and Canada have been tested this summer with no positive detects for HPAI. As the fall continues and waterfowl start migrating there will be thousands more tested. It is through this testing that the LPAI has been detected and if it appears, the HPAI will be first found this way.

Not all birds are affected in the same manner. Many of the smaller songbirds seem to be quite resistant to the avian influenzas. But if you find a dead bird in your yard, just leave it alone. There has been no call for testing of small songbirds and the best thing to do is just leave it alone! If this changes, we will let you know.

If HPAI does show up in North America, it does not mean that you should quit eating chicken or even wild game birds. The government and the poultry industry has aggressive steps in place to make sure that no infected birds would reach the consumer. But also know that it is well proven that cooking poultry to 165 degrees, will kill the virus. Washing your hands with hot soap and water for 20 seconds will kill the virus. Alcohol based hand cleaners will kill the virus IF your hands are clean. When avian influenza reaches North America, a calm measured response is needed. We have a very information brochure available at the Extension Office, 119 East 9th Street, Junction City, it you would like more information.


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