NewsDesk @bactiman63

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus has been detected in a wild bald eagle found dead in East Marlborough Township, Chester County.

Pennsylvania map/ National Atlas of the United States

This marks the first detection of HPAI H5N1 in birds within the Commonwealth since the virus was first identified in North America in December 2021.

In addition to the bald eagle, diagnostics are pending regarding five wild hooded mergansers recovered from Kahle Lake on the border of Clarion and Venango counties. Four were found dead and the fifth was exhibiting neurologic signs and was subsequently euthanized. HPAI is suspected.

As of March 2022, the HPAI outbreak has impacted domestic or wild birds in more than 20 states across the eastern and midwestern United States.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission continues to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Wildlife Futures Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, and the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory System to monitor for HPAI in wild and domestic bird populations throughout the Commonwealth.

Wild waterfowl and shorebirds are considered natural reservoirs for avian influenza viruses. While infected birds may shed the virus in their feces and saliva despite appearing healthy, HPAI can lead to sickness or death in wild poultry (turkey, grouse), raptors (hawks, eagles), avian scavengers (crows, gulls, ravens), and other species (ducks, geese). Clinical signs of infection in wild birds are often non-specific but may include neurologic dysfunction such as circling and difficulty flying. HPAI is particularly contagious and lethal to domestic poultry. While this HPAI outbreak does not appear to have significantly impacted wild bird populations, it has the potential to significantly affect the commercial poultry industry and international trade.

Because avian influenza viruses are naturally occurring and ever-present in wild birds, preventing or controlling HPAI in wild populations is not feasible. However, safeguards can be taken to protect domestic birds or wild birds held in captivity. Owners should always prevent contact between their birds and wild birds to prevent the spread of disease. Any Pennsylvanians who care for captive wild birds, domestic backyard poultry, or are involved in commercial poultry operations should review their biosecurity plans to protect their flocks.

While HPAI can potentially infect humans, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that the current HPAI outbreak is primarily an animal health issue that poses low risk to the health of the general public. No human cases related to this avian influenza virus have been detected or reported in the United States. Common sense practices will help reduce the risk that you or other humans/animals under your care get sick from wildlife. Always observe wildlife from a safe distance. Avoid contacting surfaces that may be contaminated with feces from wild or domestic birds. Do not handle wildlife unless you are hunting, trapping, or otherwise authorized to do so. Those authorized to handle wildlife should always wear appropriate personal protective equipment and practice good hygiene such as hand washing.