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Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is preparing for new strain of avian influenza

Avian influenza is often carried by waterfowl and shorebirds
Steve Smith
Avian influenza is often carried by waterfowl and shorebirds

Avian influenza is primarily spread by waterfowl and shorebirds. Usually waterfowl don’t show clinical signs of infection and they can spread the virus to other birds, while not dying from it themselves. However, this strain is highly pathogenic and can affect some kinds of waterfowl.

“There's been a lot of snow geese that have died during this outbreak. There has been some more unusual birds that we don't typically think about dying”

Virginia Stout is the Wildlife Veterinarian for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. She says that although Utah has not yet had a positive case of the virus in wild birds, the DWR is expecting it, and preparing for it.

“The main wildlife that we're most concerned about is also raptors and scavengers. So birds that eat infected water birds can end up dying from the flu. We've seen it in other states so far.”

Stout explained that other scavengers like ravens and crows are also at a higher risk of contracting the virus by feeding on dead waterfowl.

“It seems that songbirds are less susceptible to get avian influenza, because they don't typically interact with waterbirds very much. We're still taking precautions, but the likelihood of songbirds being affected by this outbreak is rare.”

Because of this, Stout and the Division are only suggesting people remove backyard bird feeders if they have backyard poultry or live in areas with a lot of waterfowl.

“If the virus is in your area, then you want to be wearing gloves, coveralls, eye protection mask because it could be possibly zoonotic. the virus that are the strain that they're seeing with this outbreak, the CDC has reported that it is low risk to humans. But, you know, with influenza viruses, they can mutate at any time”

Ellis Juhlin is a science reporter here at Utah Public Radio and a Master's Student at Utah State. She studies Ferruginous Hawk nestlings and the factors that influence their health. She loves our natural world and being part of wildlife research. Now, getting to communicate that kind of research to the UPR listeners through this position makes her love what she does even more. In her free time, you can find her outside on a trail with her partner Matt and her goofy pups Dodger and Finley. They love living in a place where there are year-round adventures to be had!