HARRISBURG, Pa. -- As Pennsylvania’s $7.1 billion poultry industry struggles with the loss of 3.5 million chickens so far due to a highly contagious strain of avian influenza, concern now is growing about the virus striking wild birds like eagles and ducks – distressing information that has authorities asking the public to help.
In addition to the poultry flocks, the virus has killed a variety of wild birds in the state, according to Travis Lau, spokesman, state Game Commission. They include, he said, five wild hooded mergansers on the border of Clarion and Venango counties; a redhead duck in Crawford County; a bald eagle in Crawford County (the flu earlier killed an eagle found March 25 in Chester County), and a Canada goose in Franklin County.
“The five wild hooded mergansers in Kahle Lake around Clarion and Venango tested positive for the flu,” said Lau. “Four were dead and one was euthanized after showing signs of neurological problems.”
The Game Commission, he noted, tracks wild birds killed by the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) strain, while the state Agriculture Department monitors poultry deaths. The U.S. Department of Agriculture follows the national HPAI trend, which as of earlier in the week had been confirmed in flocks of 243 commercial or backyard poultry corporations across 29 states. Pennsylvania ranks fourth nationally for poultry production.
The virus this week was confirmed in a fifth Lancaster County, Pa., commercial poultry flock, killing another 307,400 chickens, either from infection or being euthanized to stop the virus’s spread.
The first virus detection was April 16 at a Lancaster farm, and all HPAI confirmations to date have been in Lancaster County.
Raptors such as the bald eagle are vulnerable to the flu because they eat infected waterfowl, shorebirds and wild poultry, according to Andrew Di Salvo, wildlife veterinarian, state Game Commission.
“Detections in eagles are not unexpected considering their potential for exposure,” he said. “In terms of the population, at this time, there are no indications that this HPAI outbreak has significantly impacted bald eagles or other wild bird populations. But this is never a certainty and could change. Avian influenza should be considered potentially present in wild bird populations throughout all of Pennsylvania.”
Local birdwatchers and residents have been contacting the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania seeking guidance.
“The avian flu is out in the bird community all the time. This is a highly pathogenic one, as far as we know,” said Jim Bonner, executive director, Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. “We have not seen confirmed cases in our area and are monitoring it and will update the public.”
Callers have been asking if they should take down feeders for humming birds or other birds, he said.
“Not at this point,” said Bonner. “Most of the birds that are high risk are not backyard birds.”
But the state Game Commission is asking the public to report dead birds, said Di Salvo. If residents find dead birds they suspect were felled by the flu, they should take care in handling the bird.
He said unless the commission wants the specimen, the public should dispose of it while wearing gloves and burying it at least 2 feet deep in the ground to prevent scavengers from eating the carcass. If residents need to dispose of the bird in residential trash collection, they should double bag the carcass, along with any disposable gloves used, said Di Salvo.
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