UTAH (ABC4) – Wildlife officials have confirmed the first case of avian flu in wild birds has been discovered in Utah.
The Division of Wildlife Resources, (DWR) is urging the public to avoid touching dead birds. The first case of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) virus was discovered in Utah on April 18 in a small flock of backyard birds in Utah County. The second case was discovered in a Logan zoo facility on April 29.
Officials say the current bird flu outbreak has been detected in over 600 wild birds throughout 31 states and among 27 million poultry birds in 26 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
DWR says the virus is very contagious among birds and can cause “rapid and high mortality in domestic birds such as chickens, turkeys and domestic ducks.” Officials say the most commonly affected wild birds are waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors and scavengers.
The virus is spread among birds through nasal and oral discharge along with fecal droppings. Contaminated shoes or vehicles can spread to backyard poultry or domestic birds, experts say.
Recently, the virus was responsible for the death of a great horned owl in Cache County on April 29. Since then, five more great horned owls have been found dead throughout Cache and Weber counties. Results on whether they were affected by the virus is not yet known.
Although the virus presents a low risk for human transmission, after the first case of a human infection involving a Colorado prison inmate, experts are warning the public to avoid touching any wild or dead birds.
“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,” says DWR Veterinarian Ginger Stout. “Just report it to us, and we will come collect them for testing. We are continuing to monitor this virus in wild bird populations. 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.”
Officials say the last outbreak of the avian flu in the U.S. occurred in 2014-2015 when the virus was found in wild birds along the Pacific, Central and Mississippi flyways. DWR says two ducks in Utah tested positive for the virus during that outbreak.
For more information about the current outbreak along with symptoms to spot if you own a flock, click here.