The Georgia Department of Natural Resources reported 11 confirmed cases of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) during a webinar April 18.
Mostly recently, three bald eagles were found to be infected in Glynn, Chatham and Liberty Counties. So far, no cases have been reported in domesticated poultry flocks, but Wildlife Biologist Kara Nitschke explained how the disease in wild birds affects domestic bird populations.
“Many times, they show no sign of illness,” Nitschke said of infected wild birds and added that they spread the disease through migration, creating a threat to domestic poultry. The disease is highly transmissible and causes severe illness in chickens. She recommended that exposure be avoided at all cost. Flock owners should avoid contact with wild birds. Hunters should remove their clothing before interacting with their chickens and wear gloves when processing wild birds.
Although the virus does not typically affect humans, wild life rehabilitators are at risk for spreading it when accepting wild birds into their facilities, she added. They should follow the special recommendations that the Ga. DNR posts, including protective clothing and decontamination efforts.
Louise Dufour-Zavala is the executive director of the Georgia Poultry Laboratory Network. She recommends people take great care to consider their shoes and whether there is any chance that they have come in contact with birds. The virus has been around since the 1990’s but there have been multiple mutations since then. Wild birds are able to migrate even after they have been infected.
“The immediate concerns with this are animal suffering, loss of birds, spread between flocks, paralysis of the industry and food supply,” she said.
Although there are often no symptoms, signs of infection can include, sudden increase in bird deaths, lack of energy and appetite, decrease in egg production, soft or thin-shelled eggs, swelling of the head, purple discoloration of combs or wattles, difficulty breathing, stumbling or falling down and coughing or sneezing.
“If you see those signs, if you are aware of birds with those signs, it is very important to tell someone,” Dour-Zavala said. “Reporting is extremely important because we have to catch the first one to avoid the spread.”
If a farmer finds a sick or dead bird, the Ga. DNR handles the case, however, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) tracks areas where known cases exist.
A link to the recorded webinar is available on the Georgia DNR’s Avian Influenza web page.