Ask SIB: What’s going on with Avian Flu?

Question: One of the explanations for the high price of eggs is Avian Flu in poultry. Does this effect wild life as well? – Anonymous

Answer: Many articles continue to be written about Avian Flu. The strain of avian influenza currently causing outbreaks is highly contagious and easily transmitted, so it is often referred to as highly pathogenic avian influenza or HPAI. Just this week, BirdNote updated their article Understanding the Current Avian Influenza Outbreaks. It states “The outbreak is continuing into spring, and the number of birds that have died from avian influenza is now a record.” In their responses to commonly asked questions (read the article for complete coverage):

  • Most of the 50+ million birds that have died are domestic birds, however, wild birds have had a key role in spreading the disease to new areas.
  • Seabirds that breed in colonies have lost large numbers of birds to HPAI in both North America and Europe. With nests bunched close together and birds frequently moving between colonies, the spread of disease is particularly rapid for colonial nesters such as terns.
  • Transmission of avian influenza to humans is rare.
  • If HPAI is reported near you, taking down birdfeeders and birdbaths can reduce the risk of transmission among your local birds. Even if HPAI is not reported near you, regularly cleaning bird feeders helps keep birds safe from several illnesses, including salmonella and conjunctivitis.

CDC provides weekly updates on Avian Flu. Their site states “Wild birds that carry bird flu viruses include waterbirds, like ducks, geese and swans, and shorebirds, like storks. Bird flu viruses can easily spread from wild birds to poultry, like chickens and turkeys. Some wild birds can carry bird flu viruses without appearing sick, but poultry, like chickens and turkeys, can get very sick and die from some bird flu viruses. If you raise backyard poultry or ducks, your birds can get bird flu if they have contact with infected wild birds or share food, sources of water, and environments with them. Most common songbirds or other birds found in the yard, like cardinals, robins, sparrows, blue jays, crows, or pigeons, do not usually carry bird flu viruses that are dangerous to poultry or people.”

The CDC site shows the only outbreak in South Carolina was one WOAH non-poultry flock (World Organization of Animal Health) of 170 birds in Beaufort County. Other sites however state it likely statewide with confirmed cases in Aiken, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Fairfield, Lexington, Richland, and Spartanburg Counties. I suspect the discrepancy is due to the reporting period.

In June 2022, the USDA published a pamphlet “Found a Dead Bird? Here’s what to do next“. It states “If you find dead wild birds on your property, contact your State wildlife agency or State health department so they can collect and test them for HPAI.“. Given that guidance, I reached out to Felica Sanders of SCDNR and her guidance was similar to what we’ve told people in the past…if you find more than 10 dead birds for a species, contact SCDNR but otherwise dispose of the carcass or let nature do it’s thing. Of course, anytime you handle a dead animal, care should be taken to use disposable gloves or some other means to protect yourself from possible infection.

In summary, Avian Flu is in wild birds but we shouldn’t be overly concerned unless we see a large number of dead birds.

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