Avian influenza (also known as avian flu or bird flu) is a naturally occurring viral infection in birds. There are many types of avian influenza viruses. The H5N1 strain has spread rapidly in birds in parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe. A small number of human cases of H5N1 have been reported. Avian influenza viruses of any type rarely cause disease in humans. At this time, the H5N1 virus has not been found in birds in Massachusetts or the United States. According to health officials, H5N1 rarely spreads from person to person. If H5N1 avian flu is identified in the United States, the risk of human infection will likely be greater from contact with infected domestic poultry than from contact with wild birds. Almost all human cases of the H5N1 avian flu have involved people with prolonged direct contact with live poultry.
Actions taken by MassWildlife
With a series of grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, MassWildlife collected 400 samples annually from resident waterfowl and migrating ducks each year from 2006 through 2008 for the purposes of testing for HPH5N1 avian influenza. No cases of what is popularly called "Asiatic bird flu" were detected here or anywhere else in North America though some low pathogenic North American forms were found. Beginning in 2009, routine testing was discontinued in all the New England states except Connecticut. However, MassWildlife will continue to collect and test samples from sick, dying, or dead waterfowl and other waterbirds.
Guidelines for reporting sick or dying birds
When sick, dying, or recently dead waterfowl (ducks and geese), shorebirds (sandpipers, plovers) or other waterbirds (herons) are found when no obvious cause of death (flew into a wall, hit by a car, killed by a predator, etc.) they should be reported to the USDA New England Field Office, Sutton (508) 865-1421 or to USDA/APHIS-Wildlife Services, Amherst (413) 253-2403 or the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife's Westborough Field Headquarters at (508) 389-6300. Agency staff will evaluate the situation and, if warranted, make arrangements for collecting the bird(s). Carcasses should not be frozen, but should be refrigerated if possible.