Bird flu found in NY wild birds

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or bird flu, has been found in wild and domestic birds of many species across New York state, DEC announced Wednesday. Courtesy of Pexels

ALBANY — Bird flu has been found in wild birds in several areas of New York state, but officials say there is no threat to public health at this time.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or HPAI, is a virus that has been found in multiple bird species around the state, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus has been found in wild birds around the state, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced Wednesday. Infections have also been found in domestic bird flocks around New York and more than a dozen other states.

The outbreak in wild bird populations this week spread to bald eagles, with deaths in 14 states as the virus outbreak spreads.

No HPAI infections have been found in humans at this time and the virus does not present an immediate public health concern, according to the CDC.

“Avian influenza (AI) is caused by an influenza virus carried by free-flying wild birds such as ducks, geese, gulls and shorebirds,” according to a DEC statement. “Generally, influenza viruses can infect some wildlife species without causing signs of disease, but new strains can emerge that cause illness with high mortality in both wild birds and domestic poultry. These strains are designated as highly pathogenic, or HPAI.”

Outbreaks frequently occur when birds are migrating.

“HPAI outbreaks in wild birds are often cyclical and tied to migration when birds are concentrated in large numbers,” according to the DEC. “As birds spread out on the landscape during the nesting season, disease transmission is expected to decrease.”

State officials have taken steps in the past two months in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus, particularly among domestic bird flocks. The state Department of Agriculture and Markets on March 25 banned all live fowl shows and exhibitions, and in April all fowl auctions and other events where fowl are sold were prohibited.

Both bans will remain in place until further notice.

Officials believe the current strain of the virus originated in Europe and has been around for about two years.

“This recently detected HPAI strain likely came from Europe, where it has been circulating since 2020,” according to DEC. “Since late November 2021, the HPAI H5N1 Eurasian strain began being detected across North America. This outbreak expanded rapidly in mid-March 2022 in North America and HPAI has been detected in many other states, including those that share a border with New York.”

The first case of HPAI was found in New York in February on Long Island in a domestic flock. Since that time, the virus has been found in domestic poultry flocks, gamebird breeder facilities and shooting preserves, according to DEC.

HPAI has been detected in domestic chickens, pheasants and ducks in four counties statewide — Dutchess, Ulster, Monroe and Fulton. The virus has also been found in wild birds in Cayuga, Clinton, Montgomery, Monroe, Onondaga, Seneca, Suffolk, Nassau, Livingston and Wayne counties.

Wild birds affected by the virus at this time include snow geese, Canada geese, tundra swans, mute swans, sanderlings, mallard ducks, redhead ducks, ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, hooded mergansers, great blue herons, bald eagles, great horned owls, snowy owls, cooper’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, fish crows and turkey vultures.

The risk of a human contracting HPAI is low, but hunters can protect themselves by only harvesting game that appears to be healthy and is properly cooked to an internal temperature of 165-degrees Fahrenheit, which kills the virus.

“If handling wild birds, particularly waterfowl, gulls and raptors, individuals should follow precautions such as using personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and eye protection, and washing hands thoroughly,” according to DEC.

Anyone who finds suspicious deaths of birds should report it to their local DEC regional office. Albany and Greene counties are in DEC Region 4, and the office can be reached at 518-357-2234.

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