Avian Influenza Returns to Alaska: Experts Say Residents Should Remain Vigilant

Avian Influenza Returns to Alaska: Experts Say Residents Should Remain Vigilant

Alaska is a transmission zone for separate strains of avian influenza from both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.

The highly pathogenic avian influenza that swept through global bird populations in 2020 has returned to Alaska, experts warn.

“Alaska’s in a unique position for a mixing of viruses from Asia and North America,” said January Frost of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wild birds and other animals are at risk, with nearly 7,000 wild birds and various mammals like foxes, coyotes, skunks, and bears having already died from the disease.

The virus poses a minute risk to people, with only a handful of human cases reported globally among those working closely with poultry.

The documented case count in Alaska is 232 wild birds, three foxes, and two bears. However, most cases go unnoticed and unreported by people.

Wild birds, including waterfowl, often carry multiple strains of influenza virus, but most are low-pathogenic and pose little risk to humans or other animals.

Less common are highly pathogenic viruses, which can kill large amounts of poultry and have significant economic consequences.

Vulnerable populations of wild birds could suffer significant losses. For example, several California condors were killed by the virus this spring, prompting a flu-vaccination program for the birds.

Waterfowl, such as mallards and northern pintails, are the most common victims of avian influenza in Alaska.

The top species with documented cases are mallards, bald eagles, ravens, northern pintails, glaucous gulls, American green-winged teals, Canada geese, American wigeons, brant, and Sabine’s gulls.

There have been no documented cases of avian influenza in Alaska marine mammals, but there have been cases elsewhere.

There are recommended precautions for Alaska bird hunters, even though this virus has rarely been transmitted to people.

Bird hunters should wear protective gear, clean knives and surfaces that come in contact with birds, and cook all meat and eggs to internal temperatures of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

These precautions may represent a departure from usual operations in parts of Alaska, but it is recommended to be as safe as possible.