Avian influenza confirmed in wild birds in these Michigan counties

Detroit News staff and wire reports

Highly pathogenic avian influenza has been confirmed in wild birds in at least three areas in eastern Michigan, the state Department of Natural Resources said Thursday.

The virus was identified in free-ranging Canada geese and tundra swans from St. Clair County, in Macomb County snowy owls as well as a mute swan in Monroe County, officials said in a statement.

The confirmations followed tests of six Canada geese and two tundra swans collected last week at St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area, according to the release. The mute swan was found March 15.

Outbreaks of the bird flu cost Midwest producers over 2 million turkeys and chickens in 2015.

The geese, swans and owls all were infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza, subtype H5N1.

The findings followed officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development confirming the bird flu last month was detected in a non-commercial backyard flock of birds in Kalamazoo County.

"This confirmed positive finding of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds prompts several steps that are informed by Michigan's Surveillance and Response Plan for HPAI in wildlife," DNR director Dan Eichinger said. "The DNR and MDARD are working that plan with other experts and stakeholders and taking advantage of every available resource that aims to limit the spread of HPAI."

In addition to geese and swans, avian influenza can infect free-ranging and domestic poultry such as chickens, turkeys and quail, the DNR said.

Wild turkeys also can be infected with avian bird flu, health authorities say.

"Ducks and geese are considered carriers; however, geese generally do not pass it on," the department said Thursday.

Authorities last week said nearly 7 million chickens and turkeys in 13 states have been killed in 2022 due to avian influenza.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the recent bird flu infections in flocks do not present an immediate public health concern. No human cases of the avian influenza viruses have been detected in the United States. While it can be transmitted to humans, it is unusual and typically due to close contact with infected birds.

Spread of the disease is largely blamed on the droppings of wild birds, such as ducks and geese, which often show no signs of illness. But studies suggest the virus can be tracked into secure chicken and turkey barns on equipment, workers, mice, small birds, and even dust particles.

Infected wild birds have been found in at least 21 states, and the virus has been circulating in migrating waterfowl in Europe and Asia for nearly a year.

State and federal officials remain hopeful that the disease won’t spread as extensively as during an outbreak in 2015 that resulted in the deaths of about 50 millions chickens and turkeys, causing egg and meat prices to soar. Bird flu hit more than 200 farms in 15 states, costing the federal government about $1 billion and the poultry industry an estimated $3 billion.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development urged poultry owners to increase their own biosecurity precautions "by minimizing the number of people coming in contact with birds, isolating birds from wild birds whenever possible, and disinfecting hands and clothing after coming in contact with poultry," state officials said Thursday.

Meanwhile, the DNR said it has canceled the roundup and relocation of Canada geese for the year.

"The DNR will make limited exceptions in approved situations where there are elevated human health and safety concerns," officials said Thursday. "Sites that have received roundup permits will be refunded their application fees."

The DNR and others, including the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Services and Wildlife Services, also are partnering to conduct avian influenza surveillance.

Residents who notice the deaths of three or more free-ranging birds should report it to the DNR by calling (517) 336-5030.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.