Hutchinson Zoo officials on Tuesday confirmed avian influenza, or “bird flu,” in some Canada geese receiving treatment at its wildlife rehabilitation center.
All of the zoo’s birds that are usually on display are moved indoors and isolated until the illness passes, and any birds suspected of having the virus are quarantined in a separate building, zoo director Nicole Matz said.
The rest of the zoo remains open and the facility’s 30th annual Boo at the Zoo event, scheduled for Saturday from 2-5 p.m., is still underway.
“People need to feel safe,” Matz said. “HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) is not something humans need to worry about. So everyone is welcome to come to the zoo. We make sure that our collection is safe and that all of our guests and staff are safe.”
Matz said some Canada geese were brought to the rehabilitation center last week with symptoms of HPAI, which can include signs of respiratory distress such as coughing, sneezing or runny nose, lack of appetite and energy, lack of coordination and diarrhea.
The zoo sent tests to the Kansas State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which confirmed the flu on Tuesday. Information on the HPAI strain from the National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa is pending.
What is the zoo doing to contain bird flu?
There is no treatment for the virus, and one of the birds became so sick it had to be euthanized, he said.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure our collection stays healthy and all the animals are healthy,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to think that this case is in our collection or that it is in danger. Our animals are very important to us and we are doing everything we can to protect them.”
Even his ducks go inside.
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The zoo actually closed its aviary a couple of weeks ago after HPAI reports in the state. That included screening so wild birds couldn’t pass through the enclosure and closing it to the public to prevent tracking.
They have also been testing waterfowl, which are the most susceptible, for symptoms and coordinating with state wildlife officials, Matz said. The virus can be fatal to birds of prey and domestic birds such as chickens or turkeys as well.
Many zoo animals, including all birds, some mammals, and possibly some reptiles, are susceptible to the disease.
The zoo continues to receive birds in its rehabilitation center, which treats more than 700 animals a year, trying to return them to the wild.
“If they show any of the stages (of the flu) we quarantine them in a different space, at the Cargill Wildlife Care Center,” he said.
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Usually half the building is dedicated to animal rehabilitation, but now they have separated the entire building for quarantine.
“The building has been in a state of quarantine since the beginning of this year, since March to February,” Matz said. “All staff who come in use footbaths and booties, or change their shoes.”
Staff who are in direct contact with birds with suspected HPAI infections also wear N-95 masks, gloves, and gowns.
Additionally, all birds brought in are now inspected outside the perimeter fence and disinfected before entering the zoo. It’s how the disease spreads.
This is the first time they have had a confirmed case on the ground, Matz believed.
In the current outbreak, which began in December 2021, wild birds in more than 40 states have tested positive for the highly pathogenic virus, with different species experiencing various reactions, from no symptoms to mortality, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USA
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The outbreak is also affecting domestic poultry, with cases confirmed in commercial and backyard flocks in 43 states, the USDA reported last week.