ALBANY — The Department of Environmental Conservation announced last Wednesday that the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus has been found in wild bird species in several counties throughout New York.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are no known HPAI human infections and these recent cases of HPAI do not present an immediate public health concern.
Avian influenza is caused by an influenza virus carried by free-flying wild birds such as ducks, geese, gulls, and shorebirds. Generally, influenza viruses can infect some wildlife species without causing signs of disease, but new strains can emerge that cause illness with high mortality in both wild birds and domestic poultry. These strains are designated as highly pathogenic, or HPAI. HPAI outbreaks in wild birds are often cyclical and tied to migration when birds are concentrated in large numbers. As birds spread out on the landscape during the nesting season, disease transmission is expected to decrease.
DEC is working cooperatively with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the agencies leading the joint HPAI incident response, as well as the State Department of Health and Cornell University.
This recently detected HPAI strain likely came from Europe, where it has been circulating since 2020. Since late November 2021, the HPAI H5N1 Eurasian strain began being detected across North America.
This outbreak expanded rapidly in mid-March 2022 in North America and HPAI has been detected in many other states, including those that share a border with New York. In February 2022, the first case of HPAI in New York was found in Suffolk County in a domestic flock. Since that time, AGM has detected HPAI in domestic poultry flocks, gamebird breeder facilities, and shooting preserves.
To date, HPAI has been found in captive chickens, pheasants, and ducks in Dutchess, Ulster, Monroe, and Fulton counties. HPAI was detected in free-ranging wild birds in Cayuga, Clinton, Montgomery, Monroe, Onondaga, Seneca, Suffolk, Nassau, Livingston, and Wayne counties. Wild birds confirmed as infected include snow geese, Canada geese, tundra swan, mute swan, sanderling, mallard duck, redhead duck, ring-necked duck, wood duck, hooded merganser, great blue heron, bald eagles, great horned owls, snowy owl, cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk, fish crow, and turkey vulture. Many species of waterfowl, including shorebirds, gulls, raptors, herons and cranes, are also vulnerable. Small songbirds have not been affected in New York or other states.
While the risk of a person becoming infected is low, individuals can protect themselves by only harvesting game that appears to be healthy and properly cooking any game meat being eaten to an internal temperature of 165° F, which kills the virus. If handling wild birds, particularly waterfowl, gulls, and raptors, individuals should follow precautions such as using personal protective equipment like masks, gloves, and eye protection and washing hands thoroughly.