SPRINGFIELD, IL – For the second straight year, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) will participate in the national surveillance effort for highly pathogenic Asian H5N1 avian influenza this fall. Similar to last year, wildlife biologists from IDNR will be collecting samples from hunter-harvested waterfowl at various sites throughout Illinois during the upcoming waterfowl hunting season.
Sampling of hunter-harvested and live-trapped waterfowl for avian influenza surveillance began in Illinois during the fall of 2006. Between October 2006 and April 2007, 804 samples were taken by IDNR from eight species of waterfowl at 21 locations throughout the state. While four samples tested positive for avian influenza, none tested positive for the highly pathogenic Asian H5N1 form, which is the form of concern for both human and wildlife health.
“The assistance that Illinois hunters provide in this national surveillance effort is crucial in collecting information on this disease which has not only wildlife health implications but potential implications for domestic poultry and human health, as well,” said IDNR Acting Director Sam Flood. “We would like to thank hunters for their involvement last year and encourage them to participate in the avian influenza surveillance effort again this year. Without the help of hunters, this surveillance effort would not be possible.”
One hundred and forty-four subtypes of avian influenza exist and only the Asian form is a serious concern for human health. Wildlife health professionals expected to encounter various forms of low pathogenic avian influenza found in birds during the national surveillance effort and none of the forms encountered are a concern for either human or bird health. To date, the highly pathogenic Asian H5N1 form of avian influenza is not known to occur in North America.
“The major concern about avian influenza is that it could combine with human influenza viruses and develop into a new strain of human influenza that could spread person to person. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) continues to work closely with IDNR to monitor avian influenza and surveillance programs are vital to staying on top of the disease,” said IDPH Director Dr. Damon T. Arnold.
In 2007-2008, IDNR plans to collect a total of 500 samples this fall and also during spring migration. While the role of wild birds in transporting Asian H5N1 is not clear, this surveillance effort will help to ensure early detection of the disease should it arrive in North America.
The sampling procedure, which consists of swabs of the cloaca (posterior part of the intestinal tract) and mouth cavity, will take less than a minute and the ducks will be returned to the hunter intact. Not all harvested waterfowl will be sampled because only pre-determined numbers of certain species have been targeted. Because the data is being tracked on a regional basis by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), hunters will not be informed individually of their bird’s test results.