HEALTH

While no signs yet in Utah, avian flu has wildlife officials preparing

Apr 5, 2022, 9:04 PM | Updated: Apr 6, 2022, 9:28 am
bird flu utah bald eagles at farmington bay...
The spread of the avian flu has officials at Tracy Aviary taking precautions for its eagles and other exhibits. The avian flu is a disease that is spread from wild migrating birds to backyard animals such as chickens. The CDC confirmed Thursday the first human case of avian influenza in the U.S. Photo: Division of Wildlife Resources

SALT LAKE CITY — Despite no reports of the disease in the state, Utah wildlife officials are keeping a close eye on the spread of avian flu as it makes its way across the country.

What is Avian flu?

Assistant Utah State Veterinarian Dr. Amanda Price said the illness is spread from wild migrating birds to backyard animals like chickens.

“We’ve seen it spread pretty rapidly across the country,” she said. “It’s in Wyoming and Colorado right now.”

Price said the strain has been found in 24 states. However, Utah is not one of them.

“This strain has not been found in Utah,” Price said. “But the way it’s moving across the country and the way these migratory birds move, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up here in the next month or two.”

Price said avian flu isn’t a cause for concern for humans. 

“This isn’t a human health concern at this point,” she said. “The effect it would be on consumers would be at the grocery store.”

Impact at the grocery store

The disease has affected 23 million birds, according to Price. She said if that number continues to rise getting items such as chicken, turkey or eggs at the grocery store may become an issue.

Price also said if a chicken owner notices a high number of unexplained deaths among the owner’s birds, the individual should either call the state or the USDA to have flock of birds checked for the disease.

To prevent the spreading of the disease, Price said chicken owners should not draw attention to their property.

“They should do what they can to prevent wild birds from being attracted to their property,” she said. 

Additionally, she said if birdseed is being put out each day, it needs to be cleaned up at the end of the day.

Tracy Aviary

Officials at Tracy Aviary are also watching the avian flu situation, knowing it could arrive in Utah at almost any time.

“Because (it) has hit North America, it certainly is a risk for anyone in the states,” said Helen Dishaw, birds program manager at Tracy Aviary. “So, we’re closely monitoring where they are picking up positive cases. Right now, there are no positive cases that have been recorded in Utah.”

Dishaw said the park has several response plans in place to help keep its birds and visitors safe. According to Dishaw, the response plans range from “What to do if hits North America,” to “What to do if hits Utah.”

“So, we have different steps,” she said. “The steps are centered around understanding the science behind the virus and to ensuring our birds and guests are safe.”

Dishaw said Tracy Aviary has taken a couple of precautions to help prevent any of its birds from catching the disease. 

The first is the use of specific feeders that would deter wild ducks from eating from their feeders. Secondly, Dishaw said that nets have been put up around some of the exhibits. This includes the eagles and part of the waterfowl pond.

“This allows us to protect the at-risk birds that could get this virus from migrating waterfowl,” she said.

Dishaw said right now operations at the park are business as usual. 

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While no signs yet in Utah, avian flu has wildlife officials preparing