Some avian flu viruses have in the past made their way from Europe and Asia into North America.
"It does not occur very frequently," said Ip, of the USGS. "But it has happened, and it will happen again in the future."
The avian flu surveys underway in Alaska have been piggybacked on already scheduled efforts to examine certain bird species, band them, and track their movements before hunting season.
Working at several Alaskan sites, bird experts have collected samples from geese and ducks by taking swabs from the birds' tailpipes to see if the birds are carrying the virus in their feces.
Among the target species is the Northern pintail, a migratory duck common in Alaska. Some Alaskan pintails are known to summer in Russia.
"If there is transmission of avian flu going on among the wild population of birds, pintails could potentially become infected and bring the virus to North America," said Russ Oates, the chief of the waterfowl branch at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage.
So far, there is no evidence of avian flu in North America. But Ip worries that it might just be a matter of time before the disease spreads out of Asia.
"The longer the virus persists in poultry, the greater the chance that, at some point, it will spread to species of wild birds that can carry the virus to new areas," the USGS virologist said. "It is like playing Russian roulette—time is not on our side."
My goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am.
Hunters are alot like Birdwatchers. Only after watching while, we start shooting!