Proper sanitation all but eliminates contamination risk


The Itemizer-Observer

POLK COUNTY--Avian bird flu is an epidemic in Asia at the moment, but could someone in Polk County contract it?

Right now the risk is near zero.

No cases of the highly contagious H5N1 bird flu in North America have been confirmed. However, if it does make its way here from Asia, Oregon is right in the path of migratory bird carriers.

It's possible for a seemingly healthy wild duck to pass the less deadly strain of H5N1 to a domestic chicken, where it can then mutate to the more deadly version.

Even then, the main risk is a financial one, as long as farmers take proper precautions.

U.S. House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Bob Goodlatte noted in a recent hearing that the estimated disruptions in poultry consumption associated with avian flu are costing the U.S. poultry industry some $88 million a month.

Chicken farmers are fighting a public relations battle more than a viral one.

There are other risks of exposure. One is to hunters, since the virus is spread through fecal matter and bodily fluids. Experts say that if hunters take standard sanitary precautions, however, their risk is low.

Gloves should be worn, and hands and tools should be completely sanitized after the bird is cleaned.

Whether meat is wild or domestic, it should be cooked to a temperature between 160 and 170 degrees. As long as the meat is thoroughly cooked, the virus will be killed. Right now poultry eaters have much higher risk from salmonella than bird flu.

Another source of potential infection that isn't getting much attention is compost piles. Many gardeners and farmers have them, and many of those piles are built up with bird droppings.

Most composting experts will warn that bird droppings can contain weed seed and disease organisms, and are therefore not a good way to build a compost heap.

It is unclear if the avian flu virus could survive the high temperatures a proper compost pile creates (110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit), but an improperly maintained pile could nonetheless be a breeding ground.

State Wildlife Veterinarian Colin Gillin said that whether avian flu could survive in a compost heap depends on how virulent the strain is. However, it is a possibility. Bottom line: Do not use bird droppings -- there are other sources of organic matter that don't contain disease organisms.

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