Avian flu cases in wild birds, including eagles and ducks, are growing in Pennsylvania.
The first detection at a poultry farm, where birds are especially vulnerable to the flu, was flagged on April 16 at a Lancaster farm. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced more detections in three commercial flocks, also in Lancaster.
No human cases of avian influenza viruses have been detected in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is tracking wild bird cases while the USDA gauges the spread of flu in domestic poultry.
This avian flu, known as HPAI, is highly infectious to chickens, ducks, geese, quail pheasants, guinea fowl and turkey, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
Wild waterfowl and shorebirds are natural reservoirs for avian influenza viruses. The flu can sicken and kill wild poultry such as turkey and grouse; raptors such as hawks and eagles; avian scavengers such as crows, gulls and ravens; and other species such as ducks and geese.
The commission reported its first confirmed case of avian flu in the state on March 25 — a wild bald eagle found dead in Chester County near Philadelphia.
The commission told the Tribune-Review last week that five wild hooded mergansers in Kahle Lake on the border of Clarion and Venango counties tested positive for the flu.
Four were dead and one was euthanized after showing signs of neurological problems, said Travis Lau, commission spokesman.
The flu was recently detected in another bald eagle and a redhead duck from Crawford County, and a Canada goose from Franklin County, Lau said.
Andrew Di Salvo, a wildlife veterinarian with the game commission, said raptors such as the bald eagle and scavengers are vulnerable to the flu because they eat infected waterfowl, shorebirds and wild poultry.
“Detections in eagles are not unexpected considering their potential for exposure,” he said. “In terms of the population, at this time, there are no indications that this HPAI outbreak has significantly impacted bald eagle or other wild bird populations,” Di Salvo said. “But that is never a certainty and could change.”
Although there have been no cases of the flu documented in southwestern Pennsylvania, that doesn’t mean it’s not here.
“There have been HPAI detections in wild birds throughout the Eastern United States and, as such, avian influenza should be considered potentially present in wild bird populations throughout all of Pennsylvania,” Di Salvo said.
Local birdwatchers and residents have been contacting the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania seeking guidance.
“The avian flu is out in the bird community all the time. This is a highly pathogenic one, as far as we know,” said Jim Bonner, executive director for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. “We have not seen confirmed cases in our area and are monitoring it and will update the public.”
Residents have been asking if they should take down feeders for hummingbirds and other birds.
Not at this point, Bonner said. Most of the birds that are high risk are not backyard birds, he said.
“Specifically, hummingbirds don’t gather in large groups and they don’t like each other,” Bonner said.
The game commission is not asking residents to take down their feeders.
Residents should clean their bird feeders regularly someplace where they don’t prepare food, given the potential for salmonella and other germs, Bonner said.
The commission is asking the public to report dead birds.
Bonner said residents should know the groups of birds most impacted by the flu. “We all have to be vigilant and look for cases,” he said.
Given the typical life spans of birds of five to six years, it’s not uncommon to find dead birds in yards and on trails, Bonner said.
If residents find dead birds they suspect were felled by the flu, they should take care in handling the bird, Di Salvo said.
Unless the commission wants the specimen, the public should dispose of it while wearing gloves by burying it at least 2 feet deep in the ground to prevent scavengers from eating the carcass, Di Salvo said.
The flu is an infectious disease that can be transmitted to humans, he said.
If residents need to dispose of the bird in residential trash collection, they should double-bag the carcass, along with any disposable gloves used.
Residents can report sick or dead wild birds, particularly the species that are prone to be infected, to the Game Commission at 610-926-3136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any sick or dead domestic birds should be reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture at 717-772-2852.
If residents feel sick after contact with a sick or dead domestic or wild bird, they should contact their primary care physician or the Pennsylvania Department of Health at 877-724-3258.