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Dr. Webster - There are no additional risks this year involved with hunting

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  • Dr. Webster - There are no additional risks this year involved with hunting

    Bird flu is not a threat in American duck hunting, said virus expert Dr. Robert Webster, left, in a meeting with Don Young, center, head of Ducks Unlimited, and Dale Hall, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Webster is with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital at Memphis. (Ducks Unlimited photo)
    Bird flu export: no risk to duck hunters now
    Saturday, Oct 21, 2006

    By Joe Mosby

    Duck hunting enthusiasts all over Arkansas are counting the days. They're laying in supplies of steel shot loads, checking waders for leaks and asking the omnipresent questions of (1) are we going to have water this season and (2) will the ducks come to Arkansas?

    There is a third issue, and it's hovering in the background for most waterfowlers. What about bird flu?

    While the hunter focuses on his retriever's well-being, one ear is listening to a television scare report of avian flu claiming another victim. The hunter may catch that the report is from Bangkok or another faraway locale, but the disturbance is there, just as it is when he scans newspaper headlines.

    First of all, we don't have bird flu affecting humans in the United States - at this time. Yes, it is prudent to learn something about the disease and take simple precautions.

    Officials of Ducks Unlimited (DU) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) met in Memphis recently with Dr. Robert Webster of that city's St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to discuss the latest developments in bird flu research. Webster is a world-renowned flu expert and professor of virology.

    "The purpose of this summit was to talk about the current state of knowledge regarding bird flu and the implications for waterfowl hunters, the general public and habitat conservation," said Don Young, Ducks Unlimited executive vice president.

    "Dr. Webster is the world's leading bird flu authority," Young said. "DU is the world's largest waterfowl conservation group. And the Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting some of the first comprehensive sampling for the flu of its kind. It only makes sense to get the three groups together to discuss where we are and what we know about this virus."

    In addition to his position at St. Jude, Webster is a consultant to both the World Health Organization and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and director of the U.S. Collaborating Center of the World Health Organization dealing with the ecology of animal influenza viruses.

    Several key points emerged from the meeting. Most important is the virus hasn't been found in the Americas.

    "There is none of this virus in this part of the world," Webster said. "Without the virus in this hemisphere, standard practice of good hygiene is all you need to do."

    "There are no additional risks this year involved with hunting," he said. "Hunters should simply be aware that something is going on in other parts of the world, and stay informed."

    Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall provided an update on its monitoring efforts regarding the virus. The FWS oversees migratory bird laws, and sets the season framework for waterfowl hunting seasons in the U.S.

    "We've sampled almost 15,000 birds, and through the remainder of the hunting season we will continue those efforts," Hall said. "We expect to sample between 50,000 and 70,000 birds. So far, we have found no highly pathogenic H5N1 virus." He said some low pathogenic H5N1 flu has shown up, but that is normal.

    Webster agreed, saying that the low pathogenic H5N1strain is not uncommon in waterfowl, and does not cause illness in humans. "People have got to understand that it's out there, and will likely show up throughout the season," he said. "The public should not be worried when that happens. At this time, I see no risk to hunters at all."