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Deadly bird flu now present in Triangle, killing hawk in Wake County

Wildlife officials announced Wednesday that a hawk in Wake County is among four wild birds now known to have died from a highly dangerous strain of bird flu in North Carolina.

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Laura Leslie
, WRAL capitol bureau chief
RALEIGH, N.C. — Wildlife officials announced Wednesday that a hawk in Wake County is among four wild birds now known to have died from a highly dangerous strain of bird flu in North Carolina.
In January, a "highly pathogenic" or deadly strain of the H5N1 Avian Influenza, carried from Europe by migrating waterfowl, was discovered in Hyde County, a site on the Pamlico-Beaufort county line and a new site in Bladen County, affecting 53 wild birds killed by hunters at those three sites.
Those were first wild birds in the U.S. known to have the deadly avian flu since 2016, officials said at the time. The North Carolina Zoo closed its aviary as a result.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission on Wednesday confirmed that at least four wild birds have now died from the virus — a snow goose (Hyde County), a redhead duck (Carteret County), a red-shouldered hawk (Wake County) and a bald eagle (Dare County).

Dr. Tara Harrison, associate professor of zoo and exotic animal medicine at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, explained that ducks and geese can often carry the virus without becoming sick from it, but they can spread it to other species of birds. The deadly strain kills about 75% of birds exposed to it.

Although any bird can get H5N1, NC wildlife health biologist Sarah Van de Berg said songbirds are at lower risk because they rarely interact with ducks and geese, but raptors like hawks and eagles and scavengers like vultures, crows, gulls and ravens can catch the virus by eating infected waterfowl.

"If those birds are not acting quite right, if they are having neurologic symptoms, like a head tilt, or they're swimming in circles, or they're walking in a way that seems very uncoordinated. Those are all cases that we would want to be alerted to so that we could follow up on them," Van de Berg told WRAL News.

If you see five or more dead birds in one area, or even one dead raptor or scavenger, Van de Berg asks that you contact the Wildlife Resources Commission. You can call 866-318-2401, or send an email to HWI@NCwildlife.org. "We'll have a biologist get back in touch with you and and follow up from there," she said.

Backyard chickens are also at high risk for the virus, Harrison said. "Good biosecurity" can help, she said, like washing your hands frequently and changing shoes if you're coming into their pen. Officials recommend keeping backyard chickens inside right now, but Harrison notes chickens may not appreciate that.

“Most people with pet chickens or backyard chickens usually have a fenced in pen connected to it. And that would probably be a good area that they could go to. But realize that there is a bit of risk with that. I would definitely recommend not letting your chickens free range right now," she said. "Don't let people visit your chickens that have other chickens. Don't bring in new chickens right now."

Harrison also recommends that backyard chicken owners remove bird feeders and do their best to keep the birds away from wild birds, especially waterfowl.

So far, this strain of avian flu isn't known to have infected any humans. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not said that this strain of H5N1 is a major risk. But other strains have jumped species in the past, so Harrison recommends caution.

"I wouldn't recommended handling dead birds" without gloves, she said. "If you're handling bird feeders or washing them ... wash your hands after that. Just practice really good hygiene."

WRAL News asked whether people should take down their birdfeeders to reduce the risk.

Van de Berg said the Wildlife Resources Commission doesn't recommend feeding wild birds, period, since birds that are crowded together at a feeder can spread common bird diseases like salmonella or conjunctivitis as well as any other viruses.

"So we ask people who do have bird feeders to please, please disinfect them every two weeks, like you would normally with bleach, let them dry, and then rehang them," Van de Berg responded.


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