Three Montana grizzly bears euthanized last fall have tested positive for bird flu

Three Montana grizzly bears euthanized last fall have tested positive for bird flu

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Three young grizzly bears in Montana that were euthanized last fall later tested positive for the highly contagious bird flu. the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Service announced this weekfueling fears that the virus, which has killed millions of poultry over the past year, is rapidly spreading to other groups of animals.

The bears were disoriented, beginning to go blind and were euthanized as a result of their poor condition, the park service said in a statement Tuesday. They tested positive for the virus in January, said Dr. Jennifer Ramsey, Fish, Wildlife and Parks veterinarian. She said the bears most likely contracted the virus from eating sick birds with high levels of the virus.

The outbreak of the current strain of bird flu, known as H5N1, is “the largest outbreak of a foreign animal disease in US history,” according to a spokesman for US Department of Agriculture. It has infected nearly 60 million commercial and backyard flocks in 47 states, and its near-ubiquity is raised poultry prices and caused egg shortages in supermarkets across the country as consumers scrambled for cartons worth $7 or more.

Most of the infections occur in wild birds, and some of them spread to other animals that hunt them. The Ministry of Agriculture has recorded bird flu infections in 110 mammals as of May 2022, including raccoons, foxes and skunks. The grizzly bears’ positive tests mark the first time Montana has recorded bird flu in a mammal.

“It’s disappointing,” Dr. Ramsay said in an interview. “I think in the spring we had a really high spike in wild bird mortality and we were all hoping that this thing would die down in the summer and then we wouldn’t have many cases this winter. But that’s not the case.”

Avian flu vaccines exist, but are not yet widely available for the H5N1 strain in the United States. Only a few cases have been reported in humans. Dr Ramsay said he recommended people keep their pets away from dead birds and wear gloves when handling dead wildlife.

Wild bird populations tend to migrate hundreds of miles and are often asymptomatic when infected, making it difficult for wildlife experts to track and contain the virus. If it continues to spread through the spring and summer, when temperatures warm and mammals emerge from hibernation, infectious disease experts say, the virus is likely to become more prevalent in other animal groups, including mammals and aquatic animals.

Still, the extent of the infection in birds is cause enough for concern for experts tracking its spread.

“We haven’t had this virus in our part of the world on this scale before,” said Richard Webby, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “In the flu world, this is a pretty big event.”

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