By ERIN ZYSETT
POLK COUNTY --A great deal is being said in the national and international media about highly pathogenic avian flu (H5N1) and the potential of a global pandemic.
Experts agree that if this virus does make it to North America, it most likely will have been brought by wild bird populations.
The mode of transport? Sea birds making their way down the Pacific Flyway, which runs right through Oregon.
Polk County's Baskett Slough has one of the largest bird reserves in Oregon, and it swarms with birds this time of year.
So far none of them are sick with the same rare strain plaguing Asia -- but they may be carrying a weaker form of it.
"Avian influenza is present in wild birds, but it has been present for a millennia. It's like the common cold in humans," said Brad Bortner, ODFW regional migratory bird coordinator.
"This new highly pathogenic form (which is what everyone is worried about) has not been found yet in North America, but there is a surveillance project going on in Alaska right now."
This is important to emphasize: he said: The highly contagious form of this virus has not made its way to North America yet. A less contagious form of bird flu is always present in wild bird populations.
"If you look at enough waterfowl you'll find the H5N1 strain, but it's not necessarily the highly pathogenic kind," state wildlife veterinarian Colin Gillin, said.
It is the highly contagious from that is killing off bird populations in Southeast Asia (and now China).
"This virulent H5N1 is a real nasty one ... it can get into domestic bird populations where it mutates. The chickens all die in a matter of hours, and the wild ducks just fly off," Gillin said.
That is the risk to humans. According to the USGS web site, 60 or more wild bird species worldwide have sustained bird flu deaths, including 21 species of free-ranging wild birds and 23 species in captivity. The 130 or so humans that have contracted this virus became infected through domestic poultry, not wild birds.
Health officials believe the risk to humans from wild birds is minimal -- even humans who hunt and eat wild game. Officials also believe that the risk of contracting bird flu if you don't raise fowl is minimal.
Every case of human bird flu in Southest Asia and China occurred within the farming community. The most common mode of transmission is through fecal matter.
Farmers cleaning up bird cages and roosts should wear masks and gloves. They should then thoroughly clean their hands before touching anything, especially including their own face.
Hunters who kill game birds should also wear gloves while cleaning their birds and should completely sanitize all tools and surfaces that came into contact with the carcass.
The Department of Agriculture's animal and plant health administrator, Ron DeHaven, told the House Agricultural Committee that there is no danger from contracting bird flu by consuming properly cooked poultry.
He also said there is a vaccine for birds that is highly effective against the H5N1 strain. China has already started vaccinating its domestic bird populations against this strain, and the United States is stockpiling the vaccine.
"The strategy is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best," DeHaven told the House committee.
He said most of his focus currently is to aid other countries in eradicating the virus at its source.
"The take-away from this hearing is clear," House Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, said. "Asian bird flu is not in North America and we are taking action to prevent its introduction. Also, consumers can be assured that properly prepared poultry is as safe today as it has always been."