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Wildlife workers keep eye out for Avian Flu in Ladd Marsh birds

Hunters who take birds at Ladd Marsh might find themselves stopped by wildlife officials who are sampling birds for avian flu. - Photo/ODFW
Hunters who take birds at Ladd Marsh might find themselves stopped by wildlife officials who are sampling birds for avian flu. - Photo/ODFW
The WHO would be impressed with what is taking place at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.

No, not the legendary English rock band, but a Switzerland-based organization that marches to a more methodical but urgent beat — the World Health Organization.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are monitoring birds at Ladd Marsh and at waterfowl sites throughout the nation for avian flu.

Last weekend hunters who took birds at Ladd Marsh were stopped by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials so that samples can be taken for medical analysis. This was part of a survey that has been going on since the summer of 2006.

A total of 25 harvested birds will be evaluated this month and 50 were evaluated in both September and October.

This summer ODFW staff members took samples for analysis from more than 100 ducks that had been trapped for banding at Ladd Marsh.

All of the birds were found to be disease free in the eyes of the ODFW and the USFWS. In other words, they did not have highly pathenogenic H5NI, the most virulent and feared form of avian flu.

H5N1 is a strain of flu that can be transmitted to humans. A total of 300 people have died throughout the world after contracting it in recent years. The World Health Organization is focusing much of its resources on addressing avian flu.

The flu is most common in domestic birds. As a result, close to a million domestic birds have been slaughtered in Europe and Asia since last year to prevent the spread of this flu.

Fortunately, no cases of this strain of avian flu have ever been detected in North America, according to Brad Bales of the ODFW's Waterfowl Program Coordinator from the agency's Salem office.

Still, the possibility of it entering is very real.

"It could come in a number of ways,'' Bales said.

The ODFW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan to continue their strict monitoring of the situation as a result.

Part of their efforts involve an ongoing mortality study. Biologists at Ladd Marsh and other sites regularly survey areas for dead birds. They are on the lookout for any mass die-offs or a large number of deaths involving one species, said Dave Larson, manager of the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.

Biologists are particularly on the lookout for dead swans since they are susceptible to avian flu, Larson said.

Swans are not common at Ladd Marsh, which presently has only about four, in part because of the dry conditions it has experienced.

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