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Press Releases

April 5, 2024
Virginia DWR Monitoring Increase in Cases of Avian Influenza in Wild Bird Populations
Contact: Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Michael Wallace, Director of Communications
Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, John K. Tracey, DVM
Virginia Department of Health, Larry Hill, Public Information Officer

In the past few weeks, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has received an increasing number of reports of sick or dead birds in the eastern part of the state with the first report provided by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in early March. Preliminary testing indicates that the likely cause is H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Confirmatory testing at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory is still pending.

At this time, infected birds have been found in the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula and Hampton Roads regions of the state. Numerous species of shorebirds and waterbirds have been reported, but grebes, sanderlings, and gulls appear to be the most affected.

“DWR is working closely with our partners including the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to ensure all Virginians and agricultural producers are aware of the increased detection and can take precautions to keep themselves and their livestock safe,” said John Tracey, State Wildlife Veterinarian, DWR.

Waterfowl, and some shorebird and seabird species, often show minimal or no signs of illness when infected. However, these species can still transmit the virus to other birds that may get sick or die from the infection, including domestic poultry, raptors, and upland birds. Numerous species of wild mammals have also been shown to be susceptible and infection is often associated with scavenging of avian carcasses. During the spring months, Virginia sees numerous species of birds traveling overhead as they migrate to northern states and Canada. This can increase the chances of HPAI being transmitted to local wild populations and commercial flocks.

“All Virginia poultry owners should maintain the highest level of biosecurity as wild bird migrations along the Atlantic Flyway and recent HPAI detections in waterfowl confirm that HPAI remains present in our environment,” said Dr. Carolynn Bissett, Program Manager, VDCAS Veterinary Services.

The public is advised to never pick up or handle dead wild birds. If you need to handle or dispose of a dead bird, wear rubber gloves and other personal protective equipment, such as a mask and eye protection, then bury or incinerate the carcass, or double bag it and dispose of it in a landfill. After disposing of the carcass, wash your hands and clothing and disinfect your shoes. If you are frequently in contact with poultry, including backyard flocks, or other birds, you are encouraged to have separate clothing and shoes dedicated to use only in the areas where you keep your birds. Taking these precautions will help reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

The public can help monitor this wildlife health issue. If you observe any of the following wild bird occurrences, please notify DWR by calling the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline at 855.571.9003 or email wildlifehealth@dwr.virginia.gov.

  • Five or more dead vultures, waterfowl, shorebirds, or seabirds found in the same area
  • Sick or dead eagles, hawks, owls, or turkeys, excluding carcasses found on the road
  • Ten or more dead birds in the same area for any other wild bird species

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers the transmission risk of avian influenza from wild birds, backyard birds, and commercial poultry to people to be low. There have been rare cases of human infection with these viruses. People who are sick and might have been exposed to animals with confirmed or suspected HPAI should isolate away from others, including household members, and contact their local health department. Your local health department can help to coordinate testing and connect you with healthcare, if needed. For additional information about prevention and antiviral treatment of bird flu viruses in people, visit the CDC’s website.

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