Bird flu found in Southeast Alaska bear cub

Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 4:28 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - A sick bear discovered last month at Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay National Park was found to be infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza, the Division of Wildlife Conservation said.

The bear was noticed in October when a biologist and others observed three bear cubs with a sow who was having difficulty walking. One of the cubs was later abandoned by the sow and had to be euthanized by the Department of Fish and Game after having multiple seizures. A necropsy revealed no signs of trauma, so additional tests were required to rule out canine distemper or rabies.

“The virus that causes HPAI was detected on both nasal and rectal swabs and in brain tissue screening at Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory and Cornell University Animal Health Diagnostic Center, respectively,” ADF&G said in an email. “Detection and identification of the virus as H5N1 was confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory this week.”

According to the Division of Wildlife, the cub likely developed HPAI after exposure to a dead bird.

This is the second confirmation of HPAI in bears, with one bear in Quebec diagnosed in June 2022. The virus has also been detected in two red foxes in Unalaska and Unalakleet. It is still being found in wild birds such as ravens, eagles, shorebirds, waterfowl and domestic poultry flocks, but is not believed to pose a serious threat to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Poultry keepers who suspect their flocks may be infected or have lost birds to illness should report those incidents to the Office of the State Veterinarian at 907-375-8215. Sick, orphaned, or dead wildlife should be reported to Fish and Game offices or online.