In an effort to detect likely carriers of the deadly H5N1 avian flu virus, U.S. government wildlife experts in Alaska are gearing up for an unprecedented program that surveils and tests migratory birds coming from Asia this spring.
ABC News has obtained a draft of a U.S. government study that ranks the migratory birds that pose the greatest concern. Scientists analyzed dozens of bird species that migrate between Asia and Alaska to determine the probability of each species contracting the deadly virus in Asia and bringing it to Alaska this summer. They ranked the birds according to the following criteria:
Proportion of the species that winters in or migrates through Asia
Contact with a known "hot spot" or source
Habitats in Asia that increase likelihood of exposure to avian influenza
Size of the population that travels to Alaska
Ability to obtain a representative sample of significant size
The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Cold Bay, Alaska, is one of the westernmost points in the state where scientists will begin sampling in April. Scientists from several federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have joined forces in the widespread testing effort.
Click here to see images of the seven migratory bird species from Asia that scientists are most interested in testing for avian flu virus at the Izembek Refuge this spring (images courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service).