Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Researchers seek avian influenza answers

When the year began, bleeding birds wasn’t high on Lou Cornicelli’s agenda. Then avian influenza was found in the state. As a result, Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager, was intimately involved in the agency’s portion of the response, which included determining where and how many wild birds should be tested. Also included was an amendment to the existing federal permit that allows the DNR to capture Canada geese and put bands on them.

As part of the permit application, Cornicelli shared his experience “bleeding” chickens on his property. It wasn’t long before he found himself on the permit and in the field, working with other DNR employees to draw blood from the jugular veins of Canada geese. That process is known as bleeding, and could become part of the state’s avian influenza surveillance program.

To date, more than 600 Canada geese have been tested for avian influenza, but none had the highly pathogenic strain. Ducks also will be tested as part of the state’s annual banding program. “Our goal is to look at ducks and geese to see what kind of role they may have in sustaining or carrying these infections across the continent,” Cornicelli said.

Traditional surveillance for avian influenza has been collecting tissue samples from birds and testing them for active infections. When waterfowl have the virus, though, they shed it for only seven to 10 days. Blood serum testing can determine if they’ve been exposed to avian influenza in the past, but can’t distinguish between the low and highly pathogenic forms of avian influenza.

Being able to test blood and determine past exposure to highly pathogenic avian influenza would be an effective surveillance tool, though. As a result, the blood serum collected from the Canada geese was sent to researchers at the University of Georgia, with whom the DNR is partnering in an attempt to devise a blood test that could isolate highly pathogenic avian influenza.

“There is no serology test for waterfowl that does that right now,” Cornicelli said. “We’re trying to narrow down exposure from 144 different strains (of avian influenza) down to this strain that kills poultry.”

While it has killed some waterfowl, much of the concern related to avian influenza has to do with the way it kills domestic birds such as chickens and turkeys.

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