Bird flu epidemic now present nationwide

Wyo predators test positive for avian influenza


April 20, 2023

The ongoing bird flu epidemic is now present in all 50 states, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Though the United States has so far only seen one case of a human infected with the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus – reported in Colorado last year – the CDC has announced two more cases in Chile and China over the past week.

The former was only the second human case ever reported in South America, following a case in Ecuador in January. On Monday, the CDC reported that the 53-year-old-man was in respiratory isolation with mechanical ventilation.

The virus is also known to have spread to a number of other mammals, including household cats. In Wyoming, however, the cats in question are a little larger: since February, four cases of avian flu have been detected in mountain lions in Teton, Big Horn and Natrona counties, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Bird flu was also detected in a red fox in Hot Springs in January.

The USDA also reports 28 individual cases of avian flu detection in wild birds in Wyoming so far this year. Each occurrence was reported through Wyoming Game & Fish and was detected due to the death of the bird.

The species affected so far this year in Wyoming are wide ranging, including hawks, owls, geese, goldeneye and turkeys.

Wild birds can be infected with bird flu yet show no signs of illness, and can carry the disease to new areas when migrating, which can potentially also expose domestic poultry.

So far during this outbreak, bird flu has been detected in 6542 wild birds and over 58.6 million poultry.

In Wyoming, the USDA reports that bird flu has impacted 11 backyard flocks and a total of 430 birds.

The current H5N1 bird flu viruses, according to the CDC, were first identified in Europe in the fall of 2020 and spread across the globe. They have been spreading via wild birds and causing sporadic poultry outbreaks in many countries, most recently the US.

H5N1 viruses first emerged in southern China in 1996. Since 2003, the World Health Organization has recorded a fatality rate in humans from the known cases of around 53%.

However, the CDC has found that the current viruses are different to earlier strains and do not seem to have the properties that have in the past been associated with easy spread among poultry, easy infection of humans and severe illness in people. The number of human infections during this outbreak also remains very low at around ten and the CDC considers the risk to the general public to be low.

The CDC recommends taking the precaution of avoiding direct contact with wild birds, which can be infected without appearing sick, and avoiding contact with poultry that appears ill or has died. Avoid contact with surfaces contaminated with bird feces.

If you work with or must handle wild birds or sick poultry, minimize direct contact by wearing gloves and wash your hands with soap after touching them; if available, a medical facemask is recommended.

Infected birds shed the virus through saliva, mucous and feces. While human infection is rare, it can happen if the virus enters the eyes, nose or mouth or is inhaled.

APHIS further recommends that anyone involved with poultry production, whether a small backyard flock or a large commercial production facility, should review their biosecurity activities to assure the heath of their birds. If you are able to bring your birds indoors, this can minimize exposures.

Signs of infection with avian influenza include sudden death without clinical signs, lack of energy and appetite, decreased egg production or misshapen eggs, swelling around the head, comb, eyelid, wattles and hocks, purple discoloration of wattles, combs and legs, nasal discharge, coughing, sneezing, incoordination or diarrhea.

If your pet is showing signs of illness that suggest a potential bird flu infection and has been exposed to sick or dead wild birds or poultry, the CDC recommends monitoring your health for signs of fever or infection. However, the risk to mammals is also considered to be very low, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.


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