Highly pathogenic avian influenza confirmed in Maryland vultures

The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) released a statement about an unspecified number of vultures which tested positive for bird flu.

According to MDA’s statement, “Federal laboratory testing has confirmed cases of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza (HPAI) in samples taken from vultures found dead in Cecil County, Md.”

A post, dated May 1, shared on Facebook by the Harford County Running Club states, “The Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway trail (Mason-Dixon Trail) is closed at Conowingo Dam due to 40 dead vultures with Avian flu.”

February 2017. A black vulture at Conowingo Dam.

Samples from the dead vultures were tested at the USDA National Veterinary Laboratory, according to MDA.

“These detections mark the Delmarva region’s first confirmation of HPAI in wild birds since February 17, when the virus was found through wildlife surveillance testing,” according to MDA. ” HPAI was confirmed in a commercial poultry flock in New Castle County, Del., on February 23, triggering a state-federal response between the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA), MDA, and USDA. A total of six farms have been confirmed positive in Delaware and Maryland, with the most recent confirmation on March 18 in Cecil County, Md.”

The Raptor Center, a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Minnesota, recently shared a Facebook post, which states, “Wild birds that are tested in rehab facilities for the current strain of highly pathogenic bird flu are not currently being reported on national maps, so we’ve decided to provide weekly updates of our own avian influenza statistics to the public.”

Not all wildlife rehabilitation facilities have tests, but there are signs that wildlife rehabilitators will look for.

‘The birds that showed neurologic, clearly HPAI, signs, clearly on admission were immediately euthanized,” said Kathleen Woods, president of the Maryland Wildlife Rehabilitators Association and executive director of Phoenix Wildlife Center.

Early in the current HPAI outbreak, Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, De., had to close for a month due to a positive case of HPAI.

During the time that Tri-State was closed, Maryland rehabilitation facilities were busier than normal.

“I got in about 10 bald eagles over the course of two weeks,” said Suzanne Shoemaker, executive director of Owl Moon Raptor Center. ” That’s way more than normal. The number of calls also increased.”

There are some HPAI risk to humans and there have been deaths in previous outbreaks.

“Avian influenza does not affect poultry meat or egg products, which remain safe to eat,” according to MDA.

Additional information shared by MDA:

HPAI is known to be carried by wild birds, especially waterfowl, raptors, and vultures. Avian influenza is a highly contagious airborne respiratory virus that spreads quickly among birds through nasal and eye secretions and manure. If you see sick or dead wild birds, do not handle or move them. Report any sick wild birds to USDA Wildlife Services at (877) 463-6497.

BACKGROUND
Wild birds can be infected with HPAI and show no signs of illness. Because they may not show signs, the public should not take sick or dead waterfowl, raptors, or vultures to wildlife rehabilitation facilities. If the virus is present in these birds, it could be transferred to other birds currently being rehabilitated.


HPAI can be spread in various ways from flock to flock, including by wild birds, through contact with infected poultry, by equipment, and on the clothing and shoes of caretakers. Considering these new cases and the prevalence of the virus in the wild bird population, all poultry owners need to continue with increased vigilance in protecting their flocks from
contracting avian influenza.


KEY BIOSECURITY PRACTICES
• Clean and disinfect vehicles. Don’t walk through or drive trucks, tractors, or equipment in areas where waterfowl or other wildlife feces may be. If you can’t avoid this, clean your shoes, vehicle, and equipment thoroughly to prevent bringing disease agents back to your flock. This is especially important when visiting with farmers or those who hunt wildfowl, such as when gathering at a local coffee shop, restaurant, or gas station.
• Remove loose feed. Don’t give wild birds, rodents, and insects a free lunch! Remove spilled or uneaten feed immediately and ensure feed storage units are secure and free of holes. Wild birds can carry HPAI.
• Keep visitors to a minimum. Only allow those people who take care of your poultry to come in contact with your birds, including family and friends. Make sure everyone who has contact with your flock follows biosecurity principles.
• Wash your hands before and after coming in contact with live poultry. Wash with soap and water (always your first choice). If using a hand sanitizer, remove manure, feathers, and other materials from your hands because disinfectants will not penetrate organic matter or caked-on dirt.
• Provide disposable boot covers (preferred) or disinfectant footbaths for anyone having contact with your lock. If using a footbath, remove all droppings, mud, or debris from boots and shoes using a long-handled scrub brush BEFORE stepping into the disinfectant footbath, and always keep it clean.
• Change clothes before entering poultry areas and before exiting the property. Visitors should wear protective outer garments or disposable coveralls, boots, and headgear. Shower out and change clothes when leaving the facility.
• Clean and disinfect tools or equipment before moving them to a new poultry facility. Before allowing vehicles, trucks, tractors, or tools and equipment (e.g., egg flats and cases) that have come in contact with birds or their droppings to exit the property, ensure they are cleaned and disinfected to prevent contaminated equipment from transporting disease. Do not move or reuse items that cannot be cleaned and disinfected, such as cardboard
egg flats.
• Look for signs of illness. Know the warning signs of infectious bird diseases.


IF YOU HAVE SICK POULTRY:
• Commercial poultry producers should follow the procedures of contacting the company they grow for when they notice signs of disease.
• Backyard flock owners who notice any signs of HPAI in their flock should contact:
* In Delaware, email the Delaware Poultry Health Hotline at health@delaware.gov or call 302-698-4507 and provide your contact information, size of flock, location, and concerns.
* In Maryland, report any unusual or sudden increases in sick birds to the MDA Animal Health Program at 410-841-5810. Commercial chicken growers and backyard flock owners can email questions about the outbreak to Birdflu@maryland.gov.

Update (5/6/22) – hundreds of vultures confirmed dead by bird flu at Conowingo Dam

Donna L. Cole is an award-winning multimedia and investigative reporter. She’s also a bird of prey rescuer.

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