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Avian flu has been detected in Vermont. Here's how to protect your flock

A white and brown bald eagle sits in a nest high up in a tree.
John Buck
/
Vermont Fish & Wildlife File
Two bald eagles have tested positive for avian flu in Vermont, which officials say indicates the virus is now circulating in the state.

Vermont has detected its first cases of the new strain of avian flu.

Two bald eagles tested positive for the virus over the weekend, according to state officials. While the highly contagious virus has not yet been detected in domestic birds, officials say they are concerned about this possibility.

At least 20 states have reported cases, including New Hampshire, Maine and New York. The flu causes swelling, respiratory symptoms and often sudden death in birds. It has killed 24 million domestic birds so far. According to Assistant State Veterinarian Katilynn Levine, this strain of the flu was first seen in Europe in 2020 and 2021, and was then detected in Newfoundland before making its way down the Eastern Seaboard.

More from VPR: A bird flu showed up in ducks in New Hampshire. Vermonters can take precautions to keep their birds safe.

Doug Morin, a wildlife biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he doesn’t anticipate a “population level impact” to wild birds, but he said the virus poses a major threat to domestic birds.

Vermont has about 300 meat poultry producers and 1,682 egg farms. Levine noted that many Vermonters also keep small flocks in their backyard for non-commercial use.

While wild birds often recover or don't show symptoms, domestic birds exhibit respiratory issues, swelling, a decrease in water and food consumption, lethargy and sometimes sudden death with this strain of avian flu.

“Chickens who get sick look sick,” Levine said. “They're huddled into themselves, they are puffed up, their wattles and combs get swollen and can turn bluish… they look sick.”

Part of the reason that this strain of bird flu is so dangerous for domestic birds is that the virus is extremely contagious — and domestic birds often live in larger flocks than wild birds.

The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife is recommending producers cull the entire flock if the flu is detected in one bird.

“Commercially, it’s catastrophic,” Morin said.

Peacham poultry farmer Morgan Gold said that while he’s observing strict biosecurity measures like handwashing, as a free-range farmer, he has accepted that there is some risk to his flock.

“We don't have the facilities to put our birds under cover entirely, and we wouldn't be able to do that for a sustained amount of time and feel good about how we’re raising the birds,” Gold said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s unlikely this flu will make the jump to humans, but Morin said it's still a good idea to keep a safe distance from birds right now.

What you can do

The Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends limiting exposure between flocks and keeping domestic flocks away from wild birds.

“For example, if someone has a feature like a pond that both wild and domestic birds use, you want to keep your domestic birds out of there,” Morin said.

The state Agency of Agriculture recommends raising birds indoors if possible, avoiding contact with wild birds or bird remains, taking down bird feeders, washing hands and boots regularly, removing debris or compost piles from enclosures, and skipping bird shows and fairs this season.

“Recognizing that you could be a mechanism of disease spread is a good thing to be aware of right now,” Levine said.

Levine noted that early reporting of illness in birds is the most effective way to prevent the disease from becoming more widespread. Sick or dying birds can be reported to the state Agency of Agriculture at 802-828-2421 or to the USDA at 1-866-536-7593.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Grace Benninghoff @gbenninghoff1.

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