Avian flu case confirmed in wild Utah birds; DWR asks for public caution
SALT LAKE CITY — State wildlife officials say a dead great horned owl has tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza, marking the first case of the virus in wild birds in Utah.
Biologists with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said bird flu viruses are very contagious among birds and can cause rapid and high mortality in domestic birds, such as chickens, turkeys and domestic ducks.
Although the current strain of the avian flu presents a low risk to people, it has been confirmed in at least one person in Colorado during this most recent outbreak.
Officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the man was a state inmate younger than 40 who was working at a commercial farm.
“Because the person was in close contact with infected poultry, the virus may have been in the person’s nose without causing infection,” Colorado officials said in a statement.
The most common wild birds impacted by the virus are typically waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors and scavengers, according to the DWR.
The virus is spread among birds through nasal and oral discharge, as well as fecal droppings, and can also be spread to backyard poultry and domestic birds through contaminated shoes or vehicles.
Biologists urged Utahns to avoid contacting or picking up dead wild 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,” DWR veterinarian Ginger Stout said. “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.”
The infected great horned owl was discovered in Cache County on April 29 and was sent to the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Logan for testing.
It was then sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, which confirmed the bird had high pathogenic avian influenza.
Five more great horned owls have been recovered in Cache and Weber counties, and the DWR is awaiting their test results.
DWR officials said songbirds are not typically affected by avian flu, so people shouldn’t have to remove bird feeders unless they also have backyard chickens or domestic ducks, which are susceptible to the virus.
However, they recommended regularly cleaning bird feeders and baths.
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