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Highly contagious bird flu spreads even further in state to Bayfield County, officials say

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Egrets about the water

Returning to the region during a seasonal migration, several great egrets share the shoreline of Wingra Creek as a light rain shower falls in Madison on Tuesday. Migratory birds, waterfowl and other wild birds are spreading bird flu around Wisconsin, infecting captive birds that are more susceptible to the virus. 

The highly contagious bird flu that has killed large swaths of poultry across the U.S. has now spread to Bayfield County, officials said Monday. 

The virus was found in a backyard flock, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection said. The birds in the flock will be euthanized to prevent the spread of the disease.

The 14 other counties that have had captive flocks become infected are Dunn, Marinette, Sauk, Pierce Fond du Lac, Oconto, Barron, Polk, Sheboygan, Columbia, Racine, Rock and Jefferson, the DATCP said. All of the birds in those 22 flocks have been euthanized.

This strain of the bird flu, called EA H5N1, is deadly to captive and domesticated birds — such as those found in farms, zoos and in people’s homes — but is not as dangerous to the wild birds that are spreading it throughout the state. Infected wild birds have been found in 15 Wisconsin counties, the DATCP said.

The continued spread of the virus could threaten captive bird populations and the egg and poultry industry, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the virus does not currently pose a significant health risk to humans.

The DATCP is encouraging flock owners to disinfect their equipment, restrict access to their birds, wash their hands frequently and separate new birds from existing flocks for at least 30 days. When possible, poultry owners should keep their birds indoors.

What to watch for

The state Department of Natural Resources asks residents to call if they see waterfowl, raptors such as eagles, or avian scavengers such as crows, ravens and gulls displaying tremors, circling movement or holding their heads in strange positions. Residents are also asked not to touch sick or dead birds.

To report birds with signs of avian flu, email DNRWildlifeSwitchboard@wi.gov or call 608-267-0866.

The DATCP is encouraging residents with their own flocks to call (608) 224-4872 during business hours or (800) 943-0003 after hours and on weekends if they spot signs of infected birds, which include:

  • Sudden death without clinical signs.
  • Lack of energy or appetite.
  • Decrease in egg production; soft, misshapen eggs.
  • Purple discoloration of wattles, comb and legs.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Runny nose, coughing, sneezing.
  • Stumbling or falling down.
  • Diarrhea.

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