Caution is urged to avoid bird flu
Stars and Stripes May 2, 2008
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Following the discovery of the deadly bird flu virus in at least three swans at popular tourist site Lake Towada, Misawa Air Base’s public health flight commander is urging Americans to use caution around wild birds but says the risk to the base population is “low to none.”
Maj. Mahendra Kabbur said people should avoid traveling to wild bird sanctuaries, such as Kabushima, also known as “Seagull Island,” and refrain from feeding wild birds at local waters. Besides Towada, those include Magi pond at Shimoda Park and Lake Ogawara at the base beach.
“Although chances of catching bird flu [are] low to none, following precautionary measures should help to minimize any risk associated with contracting bird flu,” Kabbur wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
One dying and three dead swans were discovered April 21 near Lake Towada. The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday the dead swans were infected with the virulent H5N1 strain of avian influenza, which has killed tens of millions of birds since the first cases were reported in Hong Kong in 1997.
Lake Towada, the largest caldera lake on Japan’s main island of Honshu, is about 35 miles southwest of the air base. It’s one of several winter destinations in the area for migratory swans from Siberia.
At Lake Towada and Shimoda, people can purchase bread crumbs or feed to toss to the swans. Shimoda’s swan festival in March is popular with Americans.
People should avoid contact with sick or dead birds, Kabbur said. He noted that the majority of bird flu cases in humans around the world involve people working directly with birds, such as at chicken farms.
“Also, still today, human to human spread is not well established,” he wrote Wednesday.
At least 240 people have died from the bird flu since 2003, according to the World Health Organization.
Most human cases so far have been linked to contact with H5N1-infected poultry or H5N1-contaminated surfaces, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Infected birds shed influenza virus in their saliva, nasal secretions and feces, according to CDC.
The dead swans are Japan’s first outbreak of H5N1 since March 2007, when researchers found the virus in an eagle on the southern island of Kyushu.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.