Birds are Emerson Lake are infected with avian flu. Photo by Cindie Williams

CDFW confirms avian influenza outbreak at Emerson Lake

Responding to citizens’ concerns regarding dead birds at Emerson Lake on the Diamond Mountain Golf Course, Brian Ehler, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, collected samples last month and sent them in for testing. Now the results are back — the birds, tested at a lab in Sacramento, died from the highly pathogenic avian influenza. The outbreak is occurring pretty much across the state, and other states have been dealing with it since January, according to Krysta Rogers, a CDFW senior environmental scientist.

According to a DFW statement on avian flu released in September, the disease has affected birds in nearly 20 counties.

“It’s kind of occurring everywhere,” Rogers said, “so it’s not surprising it’s detected in Lassen County.”

She said Canada geese seem to be particularly vulnerable to this infection, but not every ill bird succumbs to the disease. And she added the disease is much more deadly for domestic birds.

Some of the concerned residents walk their dogs around the golf course and were curious about the danger the bird flu poses to canines. Rogers said the risk to dogs is pretty low, but dogs should not be eating dead wild birds or fecal material. She said for those walking in areas with wild birds, it also might be a good idea not to wear those shoes in the house and track in fecal matter.

The Centers for Disease Control consider the transmission risk of avian influenza to people to be low, but as a general precaution CDC recommends limiting contact with wild birds and sick or dead poultry. If there is a need to dispose of a dead bird, wear impermeable gloves or a plastic bag turned inside-out to collect the remains into a plastic garbage bag, which may then be placed in the regular trash collection. Afterwards, wash your hands with soap and water and change clothing before having contact with domestic poultry or pet birds. If assistance or guidance is needed with the disposal of dead birds on private property, contact your county environmental health department or animal services for options available in your area.

“Unfortunately, we are extremely limited in ways to reduce infection in free-ranging wild birds, since they do move around, and the outbreak is active,” Rogers said. “There are no treatments or vaccines available for wild birds. While the risk of HPAI infection among backyard songbirds appears rare, feeding and providing water to wild birds is discouraged especially if backyard poultry or other captive birds are present on the property (e.g., chickens, turkeys, peafowl, ducks, geese, pigeons, doves). Providing food and water to wild birds encourages birds of different species to come into closer and more prolonged contact with one another than is typical when they feed on natural food items. Increased concentration of wild birds at feeders and bird baths may lead to local contamination of the environment with fecal material, which may aid in disease transmission. Wild birds should be excluded from entering enclosures for domestic and pet birds, and food and water should not be shared between wild birds and domestic or pet birds. The California Dept. of Food and Agriculture may have additional guidance recommendations for protecting poultry.”

According to the statement, “Highly pathogenic avian influenza is contagious among birds, and domestic birds such as chickens are especially vulnerable. The strain of Eurasian HPAI H5N1 currently in circulation in the U.S. and Canada has been causing illness and death in a higher diversity of wild bird species than during previous avian influenza outbreaks. In particular, waterfowl, other waterbirds, raptor predators and avian scavengers such as vultures and gulls have been affected. Unfortunately, infection in these species is nearly always fatal, and no vaccines or treatments are available.”

The CDFW offers these tips to help reduce the spread of HPAI

  • Report dead wild birds to CDFW using the mortality reporting form. While it is not possible to test every wild bird for HPAI, all mortality reports are important and help disease specialists monitor the outbreak.
  • Report sick and dead poultry to the CDFA hotline at (866) 922-2473.
  • Prevent contact between domestic birds and wild birds, especially waterfowl.
  • Exclude wild birds from accessing chicken or other domestic bird feed and water.
  • Do not bring potentially sick wild birds home or move sick birds to another location.
  • Before transporting potentially sick wild birds to wildlife rehabilitation centers, veterinary clinics or other animal facilities, contact the facility for guidance and to determine if the bird should be collected.
  • If recreating outdoors in areas with large concentrations of waterfowl and other waterbirds, wash clothing and disinfect footwear and equipment before traveling to other areas or interacting with domestic birds.
  • Where it can be done so safely, consider disposing of dead birds to help reduce exposure to new birds and minimize scavenging by birds and mammals that also may be susceptible to infection.

The Centers for Disease Control considers the transmission risk of avian influenza to people to be low, but as a general precaution recommends limiting contact with wild birds and sick or dead poultry. If there is a need to dispose of a dead bird, wear impermeable gloves or a plastic bag turned inside-out to collect the remains into a plastic garbage bag, which may then be placed in the regular trash collection. Afterwards, wash hands with soap and water and change clothing before having contact with domestic poultry or pet birds. If assistance or guidance is needed with the disposal of dead birds on private property, contact your county environmental health department or animal services for options available in your area.

Residents may report wildlife mortality to the CDFW mortality reporting system: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Laboratories/Wildlife-Health/Monitoring/Mortality-Report. While it is not possible to test every wild bird for HPAI, all mortality reports are important and help disease specialists monitor the outbreak.