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First case recorded this year of avian flu in Berks County

Finding two dead birds in her yard by her feeders this winter seemed too strange to Karen Myers.

The Shillington resident didn’t find any signs of injuries on the house sparrow and the mourning dove and immediately thought of avian flu.

Preliminary testing on the birds at the University of Pennsylvania showed that the house sparrow was “not negative” for the virus, so samples from the bird were sent to the United States Department of Agriculture for further testing.

The results were recently posted on the USDA website as the first confirmed case of avian flu this year in Berks County.

Myers was particularly concerned because she lives close to the Wyomissing Park and feared the virus would be easily spread among the waterfowl there.

“I wanted especially people with bird feeders to know what we can do to keep this from spreading,” she said.

She was also concerned about what people should do if they find dead animals, including those that eat birds or waterfowl, like raccoons and fox.

“And even your pets — if they find dead birds and eat them, they can be affected so it kind of affects everybody,” she said.

“It’s akin to coals in a fire, like burning embers,” said Dr. Andrew Di Salvo, wildlife veterinarian and wildlife health division chief for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, speaking from Harrisburg about the avian flu strain that has persisted in the state for the last several years.

“It never really went away since if first popped up a couple of years ago,” he said.

Bird densities are much greater during the winter, and officials hope that with the advent of warmer weather and the dispersal of the flocks, the outbreaks will diminish.

“So it’s kind of persisted throughout the seasons when we thought maybe, fingers crossed, it would be done with, but it’s kind of persisted like burning embers and popping up every now and then,” Di Salvo said.

Cases of the flu are more prevalent in raptors and waterfowl, and the annual snow goose migration spectacle in southeastern Pennsylvania, particularly at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Kleinfeltersville, Lebanon County, is always a concern.

“That’s a perfect spot for the disease to spread, to recombine, mutate and form more pathogenic strains of the virus,” Di Salvo said.

But luckily, there have been no avian flu cases that have arisen the past two years among the snow goose populations, he said.

It was unusual, though, for the disease to be found in a house sparrow, a nonnative species that gathers in loose flocks over the winter and forages for food.

“Generally, songbirds haven’t played a significant role in spreading the disease,” Di Salvo said. “Different avian species have different susceptibility to it, but they’re generally not seen as a major player in any regard to the disease. So it’s an unusual species to find it in.”

Still, for those like Myers who feed birds, finding a dead bird afflicted with avian flu is a major concern.

The best way to combat the spread of the disease among backyard birds is to regularly empty and clean the feeders with a 10 percent bleach solution, Di Salvo said.

“Put it back up and put new birdseed in and sweep up spilled seed,” he said. “It’s just a good hygiene practice to encourage a healthy feeder and then healthy birds.”

If people find dead wild birds that show no signs of injury or trauma, they should contact the game commission at 833-PGC-WILD (833-742-9453) or 833-PGC-HUNT (833-742-9453).

For guidelines on how to handle dead birds safely and for more information on the avian flu in Pennsylvania, visit

“I really encourage folks just across the board with any wild animals or birds that you notice are abnormal, sick, or injured, in need of help, just let us know,” Di Salvo said.

“It’s an opportunity to engage with the public and get them to understand nature, respect nature, respect natural habitats,” he said. “And it’s for both of our benefits, not just the wildlife benefits, but for our benefit, too.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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