Wild ducks in North Carolina and South Carolina have recently tested positive for the highly pathogenic Eurasian H5 avian influenza virus (HPAI), or avian flu. And now wildlife officials are asking people to keep their eyes peeled for sick birds.
This is the first time that HPAI has shown up in wild birds in the U.S. since 2016, Field & Stream reports. Bird flu can spread quickly in both wild and domesticated birds. So scientists are now on high alert.
“If someone comes across a mortality event involving five or more waterbirds or waterfowl, or a mortality event of any size for raptors or avian scavengers, including crows, ravens, and gulls, we want to know about them,” Joe Fuller, a wildlife biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Commission, said in a statement. “We are also interested in morbidity events involving any number of those same bird species that are observed with clinical signs consistent with neurological impairment, like swimming in circles, head tilt, and lack of coordination.”
If you see dead or live wild birds as described by Fuller, contact the North Carolina Wildlife Helpline at 866-318-2401. Or (if spotted outside of North Carolina) the USDA at 866-536-7593.
Biologists Stumbled Across the Avian Flu Cases While Conducting Routine Checks
The first bird to test positive for HPAI was a shoveler that a hunter shot in Hyde County, North Carolina last month. The second HPAI case was a widgeon that a hunter killed in Colleton County, South Carolina, this month.
Biologists found the HPAI infections while doing routine disease surveillance checks. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) works with state wildlife agencies to carry out disease surveys of both live and hunted birds.
They collect the survey samples during hunting seasons at check stations or other areas where hunters gather. They also take them in locations where waterfowl stage during migration and for the winter.
Biologists most frequently test the species that are most vulnerable to exposure to avian influenza viruses. They take a swab sample from a bird’s throat or cloaca and test it for diseases.
A Few Quick Facts About Avian Flus
Avian flu viruses exist across the globe and fall into two categories: highly pathogenic avian influenza and low pathogenic avian influenza. Those categories are decided based on molecular characteristics and the influenzas’ ability to cause disease and mortality in a laboratory setting.
Some birds can be infected without showing symptoms, and in that scenario, they may still spread the disease. Influenza spreads through oral discharges or fecal matter.
If you’re in the areas of North or South Carolina where the two recent infections were found, and you keep or work with poultry, officials recommend you review your biosecurity activities pronto.
As for hunters, the typical precautions apply especially now. That includes wearing rubber gloves when handling birds; refraining from eating, drinking or smoking while handling game; dressing game birds in the field; double-bagging the inedible parts of the bird plus the feathers; washing your hands with soap and water after handling birds; disinfecting all tools and work surfaces; keeping uncooked game in separate containers from cooked foods, and cooking meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.