SALT LAKE CITY — After the first case of avian flu in wild birds was confirmed earlier this month in Cache County, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has confirmed that the virus is spreading throughout the state after several dead birds in five more counties tested positive.
As of May 26, 10 wild birds have tested positive for avian flu in various areas of Utah, including Cache, Weber, Salt Lake, Utah, Tooele and Carbon counties. The birds include Canada geese, great horned owls, hawks, pelicans, turkey vultures and ducks. Test results from other dead birds are currently pending.
The most recent birds to have died from avian flu include two pelicans and a Canada goose that were found on the shore of Scofield Reservoir. The pelicans were found on May 13 and the goose was located May 16. They were collected by DWR officials and sent to the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Logan for testing. The birds were then sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, which confirmed they had highly pathogenic avian influenza.
Following the positive test results, the Department of Environmental Quality confirmed the drinking water from Scofield Reservoir would not be impacted by avian flu since the water is treated. Normal recreational activities, such as fishing and swimming are also not expected to be impacted.
High pathogenic avian influenza viruses are very contagious among birds and can cause rapid and high mortality in domestic birds, such as chickens, turkeys and domestic ducks. These viruses occasionally kill wild birds, as well. The most common wild birds impacted by the virus are typically waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors and scavengers (which include birds like hawks, owls, ravens and vultures). There are typically few symptoms in waterfowl and shorebirds, but the virus can kill raptors and scavengers quickly. The virus is spread among birds through nasal and oral discharge, as well as fecal droppings. It can be spread to backyard poultry and domestic birds through contaminated shoes or vehicles.
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, it’s always recommended to regularly clean bird feeders and baths.
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. Visit the CDC website for more information on keeping yourself safe.
“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 last outbreak of avian flu in the U.S. occurred in 2014–15, when highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza were detected in wild birds of the Pacific, Central and Mississippi flyways. During that outbreak, the virus was detected in two healthy ducks in Utah.
For more information about the current avian flu outbreak in wild birds, visit the DWR website. To report any symptoms of avian flu in domestic birds, contact the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.