I went to a lecture given by Dr. Pat Redig from the U of M's Raptor Center tonight to learn more about avian influenza (H5N1). Some websites to keep bookmarked for daily updates on Avian Influenza that are just information not sensational stories are:
World Organization for Animal Health
Promed - You can sign up for email updates about avian influenza
What was interesting was that Dr. Redig's talk changed my outlook on the spread of the disease. For sometime I thought that it was inevitable for it to reach the United States. Not a pandemic killing people, but something that would hit like West Nile Virus did. A noticeable hit to some bird populations but a disease that birds would have to get accustomed to. Dr. Redig did not feel that the world wide spread was inevitable and that if the disease were spreading as fast as that, it would have already hit North Africa by now.
He said that what makes this particular incident of flu interesting is that with the global communication we have, we are able to watch the birth of the disease, how it mutates and spreads. In the Spanish Flu of 1918 pandemic, that took everyone by surprise because the communication capabilities were completely different.
Some things I learned at the meeting:
1. One thing that is important to note right now is that when people have gotten the virus it has been from contact with domestic bird fecal material, blood and raw poultry meat. In some cases people have ingested things like raw duck blood. If the people who contracted it had either washed their hands thoroughly after handling their birds or cooked the meat thoroughly they may not have contracted it.
2. None of the people who have been infected directly worked in the poultry industry. It's possible that the particular strain of influenza started with poultry with development and those people developed an immunity.
3. No one has been infected with H5N1 from wild birds, only poultry.
4. Beware of bogus "bird flu" vaccinations. Apparently there are some people out there trying to capitalize on the media information about the flu by offering vaccinations that would have no effect on the H5N1. There currently is no vaccination for people or birds.
5. Just because H5N1 shows up, it does not automatically mean a pandemic. It may never mutate into a strain that could transfer from person to person. One thing is for sure, if H5N1 shows up any domestic birds including turkeys, chickens or ducks could be at risk of culling. It is possible that if you have parrots they could be at risk. Keep in mind that this is speculation on if the virus lands on the North American continent.
6. Species that have been found with H5N1: peregrine falcon, heron, flamingo, gull, parrot. buzzard (European version of a buteo like a red-tailed hawk), magpie, cormorant, dove, swan, goose, sparrowhawk (not like our kestrels, a European version of a sharp-shinned hawk). So far only the whooper swan has been a carrier, other species died from H5N1. It's presumed that the raptor species got it from eating infected bird prey. It is presumed that the parrot got it from eating food made from infected poultry.
7. What can you do besides checking info and waiting? MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR BIRDS COME FROM. If you are getting a pet bird, make sure it is from a breeder and not smuggled in. Do research, do not assume that because someone says, "Yeah sure, it's captive bred, doesn't mean it is." This is also a good practice too when purchasing poultry to eat. Even though H5N1 hasn't shown up in the United States and may or may not, it's always a good idea to make sure that you are in fact cooking your food thoroughly and as always wash your hands after handling raw bird.