By Jeff Rebitski, Staff Writer

A recent confirmation by the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory and confirmed by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, has identified the bird flu in two great horned owls from Park County, one Canadian goose from Bighorn County and two Canadian geese from Fremont County. All have tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has asked the public to report any groups of dead birds they might see so that they can be investigated for public safety reasons.”Anyone who finds clusters of three or more dead wild birds — waterfowl, grouse, turkeys and raptors — please contact your regional Game and Fish office,” a WGFD news release stated.

HPAI is considered a zoonotic disease, which can infect humans. Game and Fish reminds the public to not touch or handle sick or dead birds, and do not allow domestic animals like dogs and cats to feed on sick or dead birds.

What does highly pathogenic mean? Avian influenza viruses are divided into two main groups based on their ability to cause disease in poultry. 1. Low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) occurs naturally in wild birds. While it can be spread to domestic poultry, it generally causes minimal or no clinical signs in birds. These subtypes are common in the US and around the world. 2. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is often fatal in domestic poultry and can spread rapidly. Viruses with H5 and H7 surface proteins are highly pathogenic.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza Asian lineage H5N1 viruses have been responsible for most human illness from bird flu viruses worldwide to date, including the most serious illnesses and illness with the highest mortality.

According to the Centers for Disease Control website, there are some tips and a very clear pathway to avoiding exposure to this flu:

Protective actions around birds

The best prevention is to avoid sources of exposure

The best way to prevent avian (bird) influenza (flu) is to avoid sources of exposure whenever possible. Infected birds shed bird flu virus in their saliva, mucus and feces. People rarely get bird flu; however, human infections with bird flu viruses can happen when enough virus gets into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth, or is inhaled. This can happen when a virus is in the air (in droplets or possibly dust) and a person breathes it in, or when a person touches something that has virus on it and then touches their mouth, eyes or nose. Bird flu infections in people happen most often after close, prolonged and unprotected (no gloves or other protective wear) contact with infected birds and then the person touches their mouth, eyes, or nose.

The U.S. poultry industry has strict health and safety standards, including regular monitoring for bird flu. It is safe to eat properly handled and cooked poultry in the United States. Properly handling and cooking poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165˚F kills bacteria and viruses, including bird flu viruses. People should handle raw poultry hygienically and cook all poultry and poultry products (including eggs) all the way before eating. Eating uncooked or undercooked poultry can make you sick. 

Avian influenza (strain H5N1) was first detected in humans in 1997 in Hong Kong, where it infected both chickens and people. This was the first time the avian influenza virus had ever been found to jump directly from birds to humans. During this outbreak 18 people were hospitalized and 6 died. To control the outbreak 1.5 million chickens were killed. Since then there have been several other outbreaks in Asia and Europe.

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