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Bird flu, reported in four more counties, on the rise in Utah

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | May 31, 2022

BENJAMIN ZACK, Standard-Examiner file photo

Chickens on a family farm in West Haven are pictured Friday, April 21, 2017.

Avian flu has been found in 10 wild birds across the state, and that has officials very concerned.

The first case was discovered in April in Cache County but has now spread to Weber, Tooele, Salt Lake and Carbon counties, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Some of the birds confirmed to have died from the virus include a Canada goose and two pelicans found on the shore of Scofield Reservoir in Carbon County between May 13-16. A lab in Logan found highly pathogenic avian influenza in each of the birds, which is extremely contagious and carries a high mortality rate in domestic birds including chickens, turkeys and domestic ducks. The viruses can kill wild birds as well, typically infecting hawks, raptors, waterfowl, owls, ravens and vultures.

“If anyone finds a group of five or more dead waterfowl or shorebirds or any individual dead scavengers or raptors, they should report it to the nearest DWR office and absolutely make sure not to touch the birds or pick them up,” said Ginger Stout, a DWR veterinarian. “Just report it to us, and we will come collect them for testing.”

The virus is spread through nasal and oral discharge and fecal droppings. It can also be spread to backyard poultry and domestic birds through contaminated shoes or vehicles.

“Waterfowl and shore birds have evolved with the virus, so they rarely die from it, but they carry it and can spread it to other birds,” Stout said. “So anything that comes into contact with them, like domestic poultry or other wild birds, can cause them to become infected and it has a very high mortality rate in those birds. Domestic birds will usually start showing symptoms fairly quickly.”

Because songbirds are typically not affected by avian flu, people do not need to remove their bird feeders at this time unless they also have backyard chickens or domestic ducks, Stout said. If you live near a river or lake and have domestic poultry, be sure to fence off the area and keep them as far away as possible.

If you do have feeders and bird baths, always clean them regularly, at least once a week, Stout said. A solution of vinegar and water can be used to clean bird baths. Just be sure to rinse them well before filling them with fresh water.

Birds with the virus may show no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they can include lack of energy, appetite and coordination, coughing, sneezing and lower egg production.

Humans are at very low risk of contracting the current strain of the virus. However, it has been confirmed in at least one person in Colorado.

The virus is spread to humans when it gets into the eyes, nose or mouth, or is inhaled in droplets or dust, according the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asian lineages H7N9 and H5N1 are responsible for most human illnesses. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can include fatigue, fever, eye infections, sore throat, muscle aches and cough. If you have symptoms, get prompt medical help.

You can protect yourself by limiting contact with wild birds or sick or dead poultry by wearing gloves and washing your hands with soap and water after touching birds. Wearing a medical face mask is also recommended by the CDC. However, avoiding direct contact with wild birds is strongly encouraged. Also, do not touch any surface that may be contaminated with saliva, mucous or feces from wild or domestic birds.

“We are continuing to monitor this virus in wild bird populations,” Stout said. “It typically doesn’t have much of an impact on the overall populations of waterfowl, but it’s likely that we will have some die now that it’s been confirmed in wild birds in the state.”

To report any symptoms of avian flu in domestic birds, contact the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food at 801-982-2200 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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