CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Wildlife biologists Jenny Hoskins and Jeff Burgett, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, obtained a sample from a duck yesterday at Campbell Wildlife Refuge to test for avian flu.
Isle birds to be tested for flu
State and federal teams searching for the deadly virus will catch up to 3,000 birds
The search for bird flu in Hawaii moves to a new front next week as wildlife technicians begin catching and testing wild birds for the virus.
Got dead birds? Call 211
Operators at the Aloha United Way 211 information line have a list of questions to help determine whether a dead bird or birds is a candidate for avian flu or West Nile virus testing, and can provide instructions on what to do if so.
The mission is to catch and test up to 3,000 birds across the state by Dec. 31, said Megan Laut, a field coordinator for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and a team member.
The team does expect to find some bird flu virus because there are multiple strains of it, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Ken Foote.
But most of the bird flu viruses do not make wild birds sick - let alone humans.
What they are looking for is the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus. That is the strain that has infected at least 250 people worldwide since 2003 and killed 130, according to a fact sheet jointly issued by state and federal health and wildlife agencies.
The deadliness of the virus has spurred health officials worldwide to unprecedented actions to track it and to prepare for a possible pandemic if it mutates and becomes passable from human to human.
So far, people who have been diagnosed with bird flu have gotten sick through close contact with infected domestic birds like chickens.
Since November, Hawaii's Health Department has been testing travelers at Honolulu Airport who have a respiratory illness and have been in countries with reports of bird flu. There have been no human positives for the H5N1 virus through that testing, said Dr. Sarah Park, Health Department deputy chief of the Disease Outbreak Control Division.
The state lab recently has been equipped and workers trained to receive samples from wild birds and from Hawaii poultry farms, said Christian Whelen, administrator of the Health Department Laboratories Division. None of the 21 tests conducted on Hawaii bird samples so far have found any positives for bird flu, he said.
"There's no evidence that H5N1 is in Pacific wild birds and no reason to believe that it's a health risk," Foote said, "but it's our responsibility to be on the lookout."
The U.S. West Coast, Hawaii and U.S.-affiliated Pacific islands - Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Palau and the Marshall Islands - begin cooperative bird flu testing in wild birds this fall.
Priority will be on migrating birds most likely to interact with Asian birds or North American birds, such as kolea (Pacific golden plover), ruddy turnstones, sanderlings, sharptailed sandpipers, northern shovelers, bristle-thighed curlews and wandering tattlers.
The birds will be caught in specially designed nets, called mist nets, that are set up like a finely webbed, 10-foot-deep volleyball net, Foote explained.
When a bird flies into the net and is caught, the workers gently remove it, hold it to obtain a swab sample from its lower intestines and release it.
The testing is not expected to harm the birds, Foote said.