Environmental factors

Avian influenza poses threat to wild, domestic birds

Since February, wild birds in all four major migration areas of North America have been infected with avian influenza also known as bird flu.

In California, the detection has been low. According to the CDC, it’s been detected in two northern California counties but there’s already been almost 2,000 cases country-wide.

“It’s unrealistic to think it won’t eventually come into SLO County or neighboring counties, so we’re prepared now for its arrival,” said Christine Johnson, executive director of Pacific Wildlife Care.

In an effort to be proactive, Pacific Wildlife has been preparing and operating business as usual except for some protocol changes. A tent off-limits to the public has been set up outside the facility where all intake animals will be isolated and checked for symptoms.

The main goal is to safeguard healthy animals already in their care from the pain of this untreatable disease.

“While it is extremely unpleasant and there would be suffering, it isn’t a very long tenure. Normally it’s a pretty quick time between when an animal would get avian influenza and then for it to pass away,” explained Johnson.

The hardest hit with this illness are water birds, shore birds and raptors, but it’s not just wild birds that this illness threatens. Hundreds of domestic flocks in more than 32 states have already seen cases.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, flock owners should prepare by looking for signs of disease and prevent the spread of disease.

The most common signals are sudden death, reduced food consumption, reduced water consumption, lethargy or droopy birds.

“If you see any of these signs, immediately isolate your sick birds and call your veterinarian or the CDFA sick bird hot-line,” said Annette Jones, California State veterinarian.

Whether it’s wetland development, drought or other environmental factors, birds have less and less space to congregate, creating a breeding ground for disease. A disease that humans appear to be safe from but could be spread to your backyard birds.

“Do things like clean up spilled feed, try and eliminate standing water, house birds indoors or under a cover,” said Jones.

As birds continue their migration into California, the time span for this infection may be lengthy. Naturally, many birds that migrate locally spend more time with us than other states.

Pacific Wildlife Care Center says this disease is very severe to those susceptible to it. They urge the community to take precautions if they come into contact with a sick bird. While this is very dangerous to animals, the CDC continues to assure the community that this is not a public health threat and our food continues to be safe.

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