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Bird flu continues to spread across the state

Since the first case of avian flu was confirmed at the end of April, the state has now confirmed more than a dozen additional cases.
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 5:39 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Since the first case of avian flu was confirmed at the end of April, the state has now confirmed more than a dozen additional cases.

Those cases confirmed by the state include bald eagles in the Aleutians Islands, Canada geese in Fairbanks and Anchorage, and an entire flock of domestic poultry in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

State Veterinarian Bob Gerlach said that he expects case numbers to rise throughout the summer.

“I think our detections in wild birds will probably going to go ahead and continue,” Gerlach said. “I think that’s going to be what everybody’s expecting. Our response to the poultry I think has been really good and people are protecting their poultry.”

The virus has proved particularly deadly to poultry in the Lower 48, with a mortality of 70-90% according to Gerlach. So far, he said, Alaskans with backyard flocks seem to be taking precautions to limit interactions with wild birds or their droppings, which can spread the disease.

But the concern isn’t just for domestic poultry. Places like the Alaska Zoo are worried about their captive birds getting infected by wild birds. Rehab centers have similar concerns, some have even temporarily stopped taking in wild birds.

“The particular problem is for facilities that do both rehabilitation of wild birds and have educational ambassador birds on the premises, " said Executive Director of the Bird Treatment and Learning Center Laura Atwood.

The center has responded by moving education birds out of the clinic into covered mews outside. They’ve also implemented strict protocols for the people who work with birds to minimize the chance that the virus will spread.

“So that we can remain open to taking in wild birds, we want to be able to do that throughout the summer here,” Atwood said. “With that said, we are constantly reevaluating, but as of right now, we are still taking in wild birds.”

Dr. Gerlach said that people shouldn’t be fearful of the virus, which is not considered a big risk to humans. Even so, Gerlach said that people should take some precautions around wild birds.

“The risk to people is low and we want people to go ahead and enjoy the outdoors and not be restricted, but just go and use common sense with respect to that,” Gerlach said. “You don’t want your kids coming up and touching birds, and even with wildlife that’s generally the recommendation, is that we don’t want people approaching wildlife or getting too close.”

The Office of the State Veterinarian website has current case counts of Avian Flu in Alaska as well as where they’ve been found. Gerlach said people who encounter wild birds that are dead or appear ill should report them to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service at 1-866-527-3358 or email ak_mbm@fws.gov.

People with concerns about domestic poultry should report those to their local veterinarian or the Office of the State Veterinarian at 907-375-8215.

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