October 24, 2005
Media Coverage of Bird Flu Misleading regarding Wild Birds
Barry Kent MacKay
Canadian Representative
Animal Protection Institute
www.api4animals.org

News accounts of the "bird flu" virus (H5N1) have not adequately covered what the term "bird" refers to. While the main story line tends to focus on the potential pandemic threat to humans from the bird flu, readers are left wondering what birds to be concerned about. The "bird" relates to "domestic poultry," primarily in Asia, and certainly does not pertain to backyard wild birds. This is an important issue to millions of people - backyard wild bird enthusiasts who enjoy and care for wild birds and are worried whether they should continue to do so. The media should make an effort to clarify this issue and to alleviate unwarranted concerns about wild birds.

(PRWEB) October 24, 2005 -- News accounts of the "bird flu" virus (H5N1) have not adequately covered what the term "bird" refers to. While the main story line tends to focus on the potential pandemic threat to humans from the bird flu, readers are left wondering what birds to be concerned about. The "bird" relates to "domestic poultry," primarily in Asia, and certainly does not pertain to backyard wild birds. This is an important issue to millions of people -- backyard wild bird enthusiasts who enjoy and care for wild birds and are worried whether they should continue to do so. The media should make an effort to clarify this issue and to alleviate unwarranted concerns about wild birds.

The Bird Flu

The technical description of the bird flu of most current concern is Avian Influenza A (H5N1). The "bird" in the bird flu scare refers to the outbreak of the H5N1 virus in domestic poultry -- primarily chickens & turkeys. The problem is now centered in Asia where poultry is raised in households for their food as well as raised commercially. These birds are typically kept in very unsanitary conditions that breed disease and are not governed by the necessary health and environmental regulations typical in the U.S. More than 150 million chickens and other poultry in Asia have died or been destroyed in an attempt to prevent further spread of the disease.

Wild Birds Not the Concern

Technically, poultry are birds, but they represent a small segment of over 10,000 bird species. When most people think of "birds", they tend to think of backyard birds like cardinals, finches, chickadees, etc. -- not poultry. "Poultry flu " would be a more appropriate description to use regarding this bird flu.

Since there are over 50 million people in the US that feed wild birds in their yards according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, this distinction is important to many readers. By not clarifying this distinction, this raises unnecessary fears among those millions of people who enjoy watching and caring for wild birds in their yards.

Concern over Worldwide Outbreak

The real danger is that the H5N1 virus could mutate into a virus that could spread among humans, leading to a possible worldwide outbreak if it mutates to humans who then can spread the disease to other humans. The H5N1 virus has not been found in the US and there have been no human cases in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control. No one really knows for sure what danger, if any, might occur. Given the potential implications, there certainly is a need to take appropriate precautions, but that does not include staying away from wild birds that visit backyards.

It appears that some waterfowl (mainly ducks and geese) are carriers and may now be spreading the disease beyond Asia. However their migratory patterns do not relate to the U.S. and consequently should not be a problem in the US.

Media Coverage Incomplete if not Misleading

In their coverage of the bird flu, the media should clarify that the real danger relates to domestic poultry and that people need not worry about getting the bird flu from backyard birds. There is no need to stay away from wild birds in backyards in the U.S. This flu is not a danger for people who watch or feed birds in North America according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Because of fear and uncertainty, people may stop feeding, housing, and caring for wild birds. This could be disruptive and potentially harmful to backyard birdsí eating habits and activities. This is especially important at this time of year when birds are either flying long distances to find a warmer location or preparing to brace for difficult winter conditions.

The content of this news release was taken from a report written by Paul Juhnke, President of Bird Feeders Plus as a special issue of its "Bird Fun" newsletter (located on http://www.birdfeedersplus.com). This report focuses on the current facts regarding the bird flu & is intended to put the implications for wild birds into perspective. Bird Feeders Plus was founded in 2003 to help foster the enjoyment and care of wild birds.