Commercial poultry producers, zoological institutions, wildlife advocates and wildlife rehabilitators across the country are doing everything they can to stop the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). This includes educating the public about this avian virus which is widely spread by migratory birds.
Veterinarians and rehabilitation workers at the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center in Clarke County, Va., are among those who want people — especially those with chickens, ducks, turkeys or other household birds — to help to protect all birds.
“Positive cases of HPAI have been confirmed across the United States, including many along the Atlantic Flyway,” said Dr. Jen Riley, director of veterinary services at the Center. “He was confirmed in Virginia in January, and he was recently found in a domestic herd in Fauquier County, which is on the southeast border of Clarke County.”
Dr Riley said bird flu is not a new disease, but there are major outbreaks every few years with various subtypes and this type is particularly hard on wildlife.
The HPAI virus is highly contagious between birds, and while nearly 100% fatal in some species, other species carry and shed the virus without obvious signs. Birds carry the virus in respiratory secretions, saliva and faeces.
Wild waterfowl, including ducks, geese and shorebirds, are the most common carriers of the virus, although they often show no signs of illness. Infection and disease can be more severe in birds of prey, such as hawks and owls, and scavengers such as crows and gulls.
Spring migration increases the spread of HPAI to new areas. “The virus is easily transmitted and can be devastating to domestic and wild birds,” Dr Riley said.
HPAI can infect humans, but this subtype is considered to pose a relatively low risk to humans. The much greater risk is that people spread the virus through their shoes and clothes as well as shared farming equipment and tools.
What can you do to protect domestic and wild birds?
“If you have chickens or other poultry, keep them as confined as possible,” Dr Riley said, noting a 90-100% mortality rate in chickens with HPAI. “Don’t visit a farm and then be among your birds. Do not share farm equipment or change clothes and shoes before tending your own birds if you have been anywhere with other poultry.
She urges adults not to buy ducklings or chicks as Easter gifts for children. It’s never a good idea, but it can be even more dangerous with a disease like this circulating.
“A confirmed case on our property could have disastrous effects for our patients and our ambassadors. After consulting with other wildlife hospitals and wildlife-related government agencies, we have decided not to treat the most sensitive species at this time. It’s mostly waterfowl and shorebirds,” Dr Riley said. “We will admit birds of prey and corvids, but with considerably increased security measures.”
Additionally, the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center itself has policies and procedures in place to reduce the risk of HPAI at its animal hospital and rehabilitation center in Boyce.
Access to the building and outdoor enclosures is restricted and guided wildlife tours are temporarily suspended. Staff and volunteers follow strict guidelines, including outdoor triage of new avian patients. There are bleach footbaths between rooms and movement between the lobby and the classroom and hospital area of the building is restricted.
“If we have a positive case of HPAI in the Center, the federal response may require an immediate shutdown and complete depopulation,” Chief Executive Annie Bradfield said. Depopulation means euthanizing all birds on the premises, including beloved owls and raptors kept as educational ambassadors.
“We have no control or say in those decisions,” Bradfield added. “We currently have no known cases of HPAI in Clarke County, but we are taking patients from all over Northern Virginia, including counties with positive cases. Because the consequences can be so severe, we must err on the side of caution. »
What should you do if you find injured or apparently sick wild animals?
“If you call us because an animal appears sick or injured, please bring it to us,” Dr. Riley said. “If he is in pain, he will die in the wild and not in a pleasant way. Euthanasia is always a better option than letting a wild animal suffer.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center staff urge the public to leave all healthy wildlife alone, even babies whose mothers are out of sight. Always call before responding as human interference with wild animals usually does more harm than good.
Boyce’s Blue Ridge Wildlife Center is the only licensed wildlife hospital in Northern Virginia, and it is one of only three licensed wildlife-only hospitals in the state. With a trained staff of veterinarians, licensed wildlife rehabilitators and administrators, the Center handles calls and accepts injured and sick animals from across the region.
In 2021 alone, the BRWC team treated 3,331 native wildlife patients, a 16.3% increase from 2020. Injuries ranged from eye infections to gunshot wounds, and staff at the BRWC has raised hundreds of orphaned or injured babies, all with the goal of setting every animal free. its natural habitat. “Our patients avoid immense suffering because of our care and the compassion of researchers,” Bradfield said.
The Blue Ridge Wildlife Center is a non-profit organization that depends solely on the generosity of the community to continue its work. Contact the Center at (540) 837-9000 or [email protected] Learn more about blueridgewildlifetr.org.