Three Montana grizzly bears euthanized after testing positive for avian flu

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Three cubs in Montana were euthanized after testing positive for the highly contagious avian flu last fall, the state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks service announced this week. to other animal groups.

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

It was unclear why the agency waited months to announce that the bears had tested positive and euthanized.

The current form of the avian flu, known as H5N1, is one of the worst outbreaks ever seen in the country, infecting nearly 60 million commercial and backyard flocks of birds in 47 states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its near ubiquity has driven up poultry prices and caused a shortage of eggs in supermarkets across the country, as consumers scramble for boxes over $7 or more.

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Most infections are found in wild birds and some spread to other animals that prey on them. As of May 2022, the Department of Agriculture has recorded bird flu infections in 110 mammals, including raccoons, foxes and skunks. The grizzly bears’ positive tests mark the first time Montana has identified bird flu in a mammalian species.

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

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Avian flu vaccines exist but are not yet widely available for the H5N1 strain in the United States. Only a handful of cases have been recorded in humans. Dr. Ramsey said she recommended that 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 down and contain the virus. If the virus continues to spread in the spring and summer, when temperatures rise and mammals emerge from hibernation, infectious disease experts say, the virus is likely to spread more among other animal groups, including mammals and aquatic animals.

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Still, the extent of the infection in birds is enough of a concern for the experts who track its spread.

“We’ve never had this virus on this scale in our part of the world 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.”

The post Three Montana grizzly bears euthanized after testing positive for avian flu appeared first on New York Times.

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