Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Madison lab finds rare avian flu in ducks from Washington state

Tim EiseleWaterfowl hunters will probably have something new to consider this fall, based on findings of avian flu in wild ducks in the Pacific Flyway.

In December, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison found a Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in several ducks from the state of Washington.

“This was very surprising, because we’ve never detected a highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild waterfowl in the U.S. before,” said Dr. Valerie Shearn-Bochsler, pathologist at the lab.

Pathologists regularly detect low pathogenic viruses in waterfowl, which do not pose any threat.

HPAI was found when checking dead waterfowl from a die-off involving more than 100 ducks at Wiser Lake in far northwestern Washington near the town of Lynden in Whatcom County.  The ducks died from eating moldy silage.

But in conducting necropsies, biologists unexpectedly found H5N2, a mixture of an Asian and North American virus.

Eventually, Shearn-Bochsler and diagnostic virologist Dr. Hon Ip, at the lab in Madison, found H5N8 in a falcon that fed on a dead duck.  That strain was also later found in a domestic flock of guinea fowl in Oregon and a duck harvested by a hunter in California.

Though these are not the H5N1 virus that has killed people and domestic fowl in Asia, health authorities are concerned, especially since waterfowl migrate and could spread the HPAI throughout the flyway.

Though these strains are not known to have infected people, hunters are cautioned to: not pick up what appears to be sick waterfowl; clean waterfowl using disposable latex gloves; and cook meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

This virus has not been found in Wisconsin, but waterfowl hunters can expect to hear more this fall.

Look for more details in the next issue of Wisconsin Outdoor News.

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