The avian influenza that has been ravaging the bird population around the world has been detected in domestic poultry and wild birds in Minnesota, including Scott and Carver counties.

The discovery of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (called HPAI or H5N1) in Minnesota was confirmed March 25 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, according to the Minnesota Animal Board of Health.

HPAI is a virus that waterfowl can carry without getting sick, while domestic chickens and raptors get severely ill and die.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, avian influenza has resulted in the death of more than 36 million chickens and turkeys since February. However, most birds aren’t dying from the virus itself, but are being euthanized to slow the spread of the disease.

Infected birds can shed avian influenza in their saliva, nasal secretions and feces. Susceptible birds become infected when they have contact with the virus as it is shed by infected birds. They also can become infected through contact with surfaces that are contaminated with virus from infected birds.

While the virus is deadly to poultry and can spread rapidly among birds, it poses little threat to human beings.

LOCAL IMPACT

The USDA reported that there are currently 57 affected commercial flocks, 12 affected backyard flocks and a total of about 2.9 million birds affected in this outbreak in the state of Minnesota alone.

On April 28, 30 birds were confirmed to have been affected by the avian influenza virus from a backyard producer in Carver County, according to the USDA.

In Scott County, the University of Minnesota Raptor Center reported that four species of wild birds tested positive for avian influenza, including a bald eagle on April 14, a red-tailed hawk on April 19, a Cooper’s hawk on April 24 and a great-horned owl on April 24.

Meanwhile, a bald eagle was confirmed to have the virus in Carver County on April 24.

As of May 1, the Raptor Center has tested 189 birds, with 114 testing positive for HPAI.

Out of the 114 birds that tested positive, 28 were bald eagles, five were barred owls, three were Cooper’s hawks, 54 were great horned owls, one was a northern harrier, three were red-shouldered hawks, 18 were red-tail hawks and two were turkey vultures.

IDENTIFICATION

Michael Crusan, the communications director at the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, said the board is collaborating with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on sharing information regarding potential wild bird and poultry HPAI infections in the state.

“It’s a very big process that we undertake here at the state, and that’s why we have a lot of people on the response team. It’s a state, federal and local response,” said Crusan. “What we do is when a positive site is detected, they talk to their flock veterinarian and the veterinarian then gets in touch with our poultry laboratory out in Willmar and they could contact University of Minnesota and say they have suspicious looking signs, take samples and submit them. If they’re positive, they send them to the USDA and then they assign a case manager, which is a state or federal employee, that responds to that specific site.”

Crusan said the case manager then becomes the single point of contact for a particular infected site that is placed under quarantine and a response zone is created around the infected premises in order to control movement and establish an area for testing and surveillance protocols.

Once laboratories confirms HPAI, the USDA posts updates on its website.

“The response plan is that when there’s a positive bird in the flock, we depopulate the entire flock to stop the spread of the virus because it moves so rapidly that it will infect all of the other poultry within the flock,” Crusan said.

DEADLIER

Michelle Carstensen, the Wildlife Health Group Leader for the DNR, said avian influenza is deadlier to wild birds this year compared to 2015 when avian influenza was last detected in Minnesota.

“Typically the virus doesn’t do a whole lot of bad things to the wildlife. Wild birds can still maintain it and not succumb to the virus, but they can spread it,” Carstensen said. “But this particular strain that we have in 2022 is a little different in that it’s actually killing wild birds, too. So, that’s the difference from what we saw in 2015. We haven’t really experienced this before. Not all wild birds that encounter it will die, but certainly waterfowl and raptors in particular have been hit quite hard with this particular strain of avian influenza.”

Carstensen said commercial poultry producers and backyard flock owners should continue to practice strict biosecurity to prevent their birds from exposure to wild waterfowl.

“There’s tons of information for poultry producers and backyard folks that have their own hobby chickens and ducks and what not to take good measures to protect their flock,” Carstensen said. “So, that’s really where the frontline of this virus comes in. It’s in our ability to try to keep our domestic and hobby animals safe from the virus, but we can’t do anything on the wild birds.”

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