Wild birds have carried influenza viruses for hundred, maybe even thousands of years without being ill. Avian flu or bird flu has become more of a concern because of a particular type of influenza virus known as the highly pathogenic (HP) form of H5N1. It is possible that this virus could be found in North America in the future and likely will first appear in wild aquatic bird populations. Even if wild birds become infected with the H5N1 virus, the potential for people to become infected will remain extremely low.
Avian or bird flu usually spreads from bird to bird. In rare cases, people can get the disease from dealing with infected chickens and other poultry. Properly cooking domestic and wild poultry products kills the virus. Eating fully cooked poultry and wild birds is not a health risk for people. Hunters who harvest game for food can still continue to hunt and cook wild game safely by taking simple precautions.
Manitoba, which is on a major migratory route for wild bird populations, is working cooperatively with the federal government and other jurisdictions to ensure that surveillance efforts, control measures and response plans are in place and ready in the event that the HP H5N1 variety of avian flu arrives in North America.
Manitoba, in 2005, participated in a wild bird survey to assess the extent of influenza in wild ducks. Several ducks were found to be carrying the North American strain of the virus – not the HP version found in Asia and Europe. No illness was found in duck populations in Manitoba.
In 2006, Manitoba participated in a national wild bird influenza survey. More than 1,000 hunter-harvested wild geese were sampled for laboratory analysis. Results indicated that none of the birds sampled carried the H5N1 virus.
Generally people should avoid handling wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead. If sick or dead waterfowl (ducks, geese, swans), or shorebirds (plovers, sandpipers) are found, contact the Canadian Wildlife Service at 1-800-668-6767 or contact Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship at 1-800-214-6497 or 945-6784 in Winnipeg. If handling the bird is unavoidable, guidance on precautions for the handling of wild birds is available on the Public Health Agency of Canada's web site.
More information on avian influenza is available on the Province of Manitoba's web site.