Nov. 27, 2006, 4:48PM
Va. hunters' game tested for avian flu
© 2006 The Associated Press
RICHMOND, Va. — Waterfowl hunters in Virginia are being enlisted in the fight against avian flu.
Along eastern Virginia's waterways, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is scouting out hunters at wildlife management areas, popular hunting spots and boat ramps. There, some of them are being asked to allow a swab of their bagged game to test for the highly pathogenic version of H5N1 avian flu, according to Bob Ellis, assistant director of the department's wildlife division.
Species being sampled include tundra swan, mute swan, snow goose, Atlantic brant and mallards.
People are also encouraged to report to game officials unusual sickness or death they observe in waterfowl or shorebirds. Hunters should refrain from picking up the birds but note their location and contact game officials.
Since 2003, the H5N1 virus has killed more than 100 people and millions of birds worldwide, sparking fears that the virus could mutate into a pandemic influenza.
Officials know of no U.S. bird infected by this highly pathogenic avian influenza.
Low-pathogenic viruses common among waterfowl and shorebirds cause little illness among birds and don't threaten human health.
This summer, federal officials began monitoring Alaska and the Pacific Northwest as the likeliest entry point of infected birds from Asia. The Atlantic Flyway, which includes Virginia, stretches from Greenland to Canada and south to Florida and Puerto Rico.
American birds summering in Greenland mix with those migrating from Africa and Europe, where avian flu already exists.
In Virginia, Game and Inland Fisheries has tested about 190 mute swans and about 90 mallards, Jonathan Sleeman, a state wildlife veterinarian, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Game officials have checked on Tangier Sound, Virginia Beach, the Potomac River, the Beaverdam reservoir, Hog Island and Chickahominy River, according to Sleeman.
Tests on a couple of mallards that died suddenly in Portsmouth came back negative for the H5N1 virus, he said.
The surveillance will continue through the winter as the last of the birds migrating south come through Virginia, Sleeman said.
From what I can tell, the odds that Virginia waterfowl will be infected with the Avian Flu seem pretty low, but I do think the Avian Flu is something we need to track and research. I'll be interested in the results of this study, and I wonder what else we will learn about the state of our wildlife.