Bird Flu Strikes Vultures

Gregory Vellner

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Chickens at a poultry farm.Unsplash

LANCASTER, Pa. – As the avian influenza outbreak that began here hits the one-month mark this week since it began killing countless chickens, turkeys, ducks and wild birds like bald eagles, authorities now have confirmed the highly pathogenic virus has struck an eighth county poultry operation as well as killed 80 black vultures in neighboring Maryland.

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) did not disclose the name of the affected farm, it said 72,300 birds either died of the virus or were depopulated to prevent its spread. It brings the outbreak totals to 37.7 million poultry and 1,112 wild birds killed, and one human infected in 36 states nationwide, according to the USDA, which noted the outbreak began April 15 in Lancaster County.

Outbreaks also were reported at two farms in neighboring Berks County, continuing the pattern where all Pennsylvania detection has been in Berks and Lancaster.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on May 5 confirmed the influenza through genetic testing in an unnamed human and said “genetic characterization is ongoing” and further details are to be released.

The black vultures recently were found dead in wildlife areas along the Susquehanna River in Harford County, Maryland, just south of Lancaster County. The high number of vultures found in the wild is alarming because it means the birds are spreading the virus as they travel and eat carcasses, according to a state biologist for the affected Maryland district.

“That’s a lot of vultures to get the bird flu at once,” said Dan Rauch. “”Vultures travel to where their food sources are, so they’re moving all over the place. They feed together and roost together.”

As avian flu numbers climb in Pennsylvania, officials in other states like Virginia also are keeping an eye on developments.

“The numbers are just staggering in terms of the poultry,” said Charlie Broaddus, the state veterinarian in Virginia. He said a big factor in the spread is that it’s being carried by wild ducks and geese that are infected but “don’t typically become affected” by it.

“They’re carriers,” he said. “But the genetic sequence has the potential to make domestic birds much, much sicker.”

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As a professional journalist for several years -- reporter, editor, feature writer, columnist -- I handled a range of subjects. Breaking news, investigative series, government action, feature events, and staff feature writer with national entertainment magazine interviewing stars including Tom Selleck, Mel Brooks and Danny DeVito. No matter the topic, certain ingredients are key: truth, facts, objectivity, balance.

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