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Conn. Biologists Tagging, Checking Birds To Track Bird Flu

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  • Conn. Biologists Tagging, Checking Birds To Track Bird Flu

    Conn. Biologists Tagging, Checking Birds To Track Bird Flu

    POSTED: 12:59 pm EDT October 20, 2007
    UPDATED: 1:02 pm EDT October 20, 2007

    WATERFORD, Conn. -- Hundreds of birds are being captured, tagged and returned to their settings in Connecticut as part of a national effort to track bird flu.

    Several mallards were banded with a metal leg ring recently, and cotton swabs that had been inserted into their throats were sealed into marked vials.

    Wildlife biologist Min Huang, head of the state Department of Environmental Protection's migrating game bird program, is about halfway toward a goal of swabbing 750 birds. The samples go to a University of Connecticut laboratory for initial screening.Any that test positive for one of 40 or so varieties of avian flu virus are sent to a federal lab in Madison, Wis., for more precise identification.

    The possibility of a widespread outbreak among poultry and subsequent economic losses are considered a more immediate threat in Connecticut than human disease, Huang said.

    Connecticut is home to 17,000 registered backyard poultry flocks, many of which are free-ranging and could come in contact with wild birds carrying the virus.

    "It's probably just a matter of time," Huang said.

    Of the samples collected so far, the low pathogenic form of the virus has been detected only twice, in Canada geese trapped in Stonington this year and mallards trapped last year in Wethersfield, Huang said.

    "It's like looking for that proverbial needle in the haystack," he said.

    If any of his samples were to be found with the highly pathogenic type, he said he would return to areas where he found the birds and sample extensively. Huang and his staff also would check commercial or backyard poultry flocks in the surrounding area, he said.

    Huang and his staff collect samples from hunter-killed birds at boat launches and at wetlands and coastal sites where birds gather. Birds are coaxed with corn for several weeks before they are netted.