Removing bird baths and feeders may reduce the spread of HPAI

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Over one million cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) have been confirmed in Minnesota since March 25.

“We’re dealing with an unprecedented outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza across the United States, right now and certainly very intensely right now in the state of Minnesota,” said Raptor Center Executive Director and Veterinary Epidemiologist Dr. Victoria Hall.

Outbreaks of bird flu have occurred before but this one is different.

“Oftentimes, these outbreaks of HPAI are concentrated in poultry operations. In this one, we’re seeing it in poultry operations, but we’re also seeing incredible numbers in wild birds, raptors,” explained Hall. “There’s been ducks and geese that have been detected and have died from it. Here at the raptor center, it’s nearly every day that we’re emitting one to three patients that are positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza.”

Unfortunately, birds that test positive must be humanely euthanized.

“These birds look very sick. They’re seizing, they’re unable to stand. They’re having incredible suffering,” said Hall. “Humane euthanasia is the kindest thing we can do for these birds. It’s also important to note that positive birds are shedding viruses in their feces and their respiratory secretions and everything coming out of them, putting other birds at risk as well.”

Although HPAI is primarily spread amongst birds, humans could accidentally carry it.

“It’s important to remember that this virus is very hardy. It lives in the environment and it also lives on things like clothes and shoes,” explained Hall. “If you find a bird that is ill or injured or dead, make sure to call the DNR, The Raptor Center,or the Wildlife Rehab Center and get advice on what to do. We probably will have you use gloves and a mask and things like that when you handle these birds so it reduces the chance that you then take the virus with you somewhere else unintentionally.”

Your backyard could also add to the spread of HPAI.

“One thing we’re recommending right now is to just pause using bird feeders or bird baths for a couple of months during the height of this outbreak,” advised Hall. “Out of an abundance of caution. We don’t know a lot about the true risk of these things, but what we do know is that artificially gathering birds together is not a good idea during this time of incredible virus transmission in the environment.”

Each species of bird will react to the virus differently and may spread it at varying rates. With so much unknown, an abundance of caution is needed.

“Unfortunately, there are so many species of birds, we don’t quite know how this specific strain really works in each of these other species,” said Hall. “So that’s why we’re just trying to take a broad approach to doing anything we can to help our bird friends right now during this hard time.”