High Mortality, Disease Levels During Current HPAI Outbreak; SPCA Says All Should Be Aware of Risk

April 14, 2022
By: SPCA Wildlife Director Barbara Haney & Chief Communications Officer Gina Lattuca

-Current HPAI outbreak infecting domestic poultry as well as wildlife, responsible for high levels of infection and mortality.

-SPCA Serving Erie County working with Erie County Health Department Division of Emergency Preparedness and Messinger Woods Wildlife Care and Education Center to continue accepting and treating local wildlife and to protect species.

-Community members urged to protect animals and prevent HPAI spread.

-Community members urged to report to the DEC observed die-offs of personal flocks, or of two or more members of same wild species in same area.

-Community members bringing birds to the Wildlife Department hospital at the SPCA are asked to wear masks, gloves, and are asked to not enter the building through any entrance; an admission area has been established outside the SPCA’s Wildlife Department.

Concern continues to mount regarding the current Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu (HPAI), according to SPCA Serving Erie County Wildlife Director Barbara Haney.

In an effort to share with members of the public why everyone should be aware of this outbreak and why a response must be rapid, Haney says, “This is a serious outbreak, the most serious since 2015, and needs to be treated as such. It is causing tremendous disease and mortality. As facilities around us are closing [Buffalo Zoo’s Rainforest Falls, Hawk Creek Wildlife’s Center admission of birds for rehabilitation, etc.] and poultry farms are ‘depopulating,’ the SPCA Serving Erie County Wildlife Department has been busy planning for a high likelihood of a potential outbreak of HPAI here in Erie County.”

According to an April 12, 2022 HPAI outbreak document on Market Intel,  “Highly pathogenic avian influenza was first detected in wild birds in South Carolina on Jan. 13 of this year. Poultry growers, remembering well the 2014-2015 outbreak, collectively held their breath, hoping that the second shoe – outbreaks in commercial and backyard flocks – wouldn’t drop. Unfortunately, despite advanced biosafety protocols, the first outbreak in domesticated birds was detected on Feb. 8. Through April 7, USDA has announced more than 600 detections in wild birds across 31 states and 158 detections in commercial and backyard flocks across 25 states.”

Says Haney, “HPAI is spread through migrating waterfowl primarily shedding the virus as they migrate through and over areas. The last outbreak affected mainly turkeys. This outbreak is different in that it is affecting domestic poultry as well as wildlife, and is now present on the east coast [the last outbreak did not make it to the Atlantic migratory fly-way].”

Local wild species most at risk are gulls, all waterfowl (including mallards and Canada geese) and marsh birds, often asymptomatic, and crows, ravens, blue jays, and raptors. Haney shares that more than 24 million domestic poultry have been depopulated, and that, according to the American Farm Bureau, 40% of detections have been backyard flocks. “Owners of backyard flocks need to be diligent in practicing bio-security to protect their birds,” Haney warns, recommending flock owners turn to the USDA for information on proper and effective protection.

Locally, members of the SPCA Serving Erie County Wildlife Department, Messinger Woods Wildlife Care and Education Center, and Wild Kritters received training from the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) Division of Emergency Preparedness to learn the best way to provide care to wild animals during this deadly outbreak. “While the HPAI risk to humans is minimal, if an infected wild animal enters the SPCA, our Wildlife Department could be closed for 30 days or more,” Haney says. “We cannot afford taking that chance, especially during what we call ‘baby season.’ Too many injured and/or orphaned animals need our help, especially at this time of year.”

To safely continue serving as many animals as possible and to protect humans as well as avian species and mammals, the SPCA has set up a wildlife admission area outside of the building, and with the help of the ECDOH, the Wildlife team has been outfitted with full PPE and N95 masks. All sick or injured birds of the at-risk species will be triaged by phone, and appropriate PPE and quarantine procedures will be in place. A system to separate and protect species has been established with Messinger Woods.

“When bringing a bird to our hospital, we ask that community members wear masks and gloves, and that they do not, under any circumstances, enter the facility at any part of the building,” Haney recommends.

Members of the community are asked to be cognizant of transporting objects or materials that might carry infection when out hiking or birding in areas that attract waterfowl; footwear should be cleaned or changed to reduce chances of spreading disease.

Those who observe die-off of any part of a personally-owned flock population, or two or more of the same wild species in the same area, are asked to notify the state Department of Environmental Conservation at 877-457-5680.

Contact the SPCA’s Wildlife Department with questions regarding wildlife, rehabilitation, and rescue: (716) 875-7360, ext. 247.

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