Highly pathogenic avian influenza found in Missouri wild birds

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has confirmed that highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been detected in an American white pelican in Clay County, Mo. Confirmation came from the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa. Additionally, the University of Missouri Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab has confirmed positive birds from Pettis, Randolph, and St. Charles counties.

Avian influenza, commonly referred to as bird flu, was first confirmed in a commercial poultry flock in Stoddard County on March 3, and a backyard flock in Bates County on March 4. MDC is working closely with the Missouri Department of Agriculture and other state and federal agencies to monitor the spread of the virus.

“Avian influenza viruses naturally occur in bird populations, especially waterfowl, shorebirds, and domestic birds such as chickens and turkeys,” said MDC State Wildlife Veterinarian Sherri Russell. “We have been monitoring this strain since early January, when it was detected in the eastern United States and Canada.”

Avian influenza spreads as birds along the North American flyways intermingle with infected birds from Europe and Asia. The viruses are transmitted from bird to bird through fecal droppings, saliva, and nasal discharges. There is a risk for spillover from wild birds into domestic poultry and then back again from poultry to wild birds, resulting in further spread.

“Fortunately, avian influenza does not present an immediate public health concern, although on rare occasions it has infected humans and other animals,” said Dr. Russell. “We recommend you avoid handling sick or dead birds, and to report sick or dead wild birds, especially waterfowl to MDC.”

Wildlife Health staff are interested in reports of single waterfowl, raptor, or avian scavengers with neurological symptoms – tremors, head tilting, lethargy, loss of coordination, inability to fly or walk properly, or trouble standing upright. They are also interested in waterfowl or other waterbird deaths involving more than five birds where the cause of death is unknown. Citizens can report sick or dead birds by emailing WildlifeHealth@mdc.mo.gov or calling their local MDC office.

Hunters are advised to take common sense precautions when handling harvested birds in the field or at home. They should be aware that it is possible to transport avian influenza viruses on boats, waders, or other equipment, especially if it isn’t dry before moving it from one site to another. Allowing hunting equipment to dry between outings will reduce this chance.

“It is safe to eat poultry and wild game birds because normal cooking temperatures are hot enough to kill the virus,” said Dr. Russell. “Make sure to cook your meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Situation updates of ongoing avian influenza in wild birds are available at https://mdc.mo.gov/wildlife/wildlife-diseases/highly-pathogenic-avian-influenza-hpai. For domestic poultry situational updates and biosecurity information, visit the Missouri Department of Agriculture website, Agriculture.Mo.Gov/avian-influenza.