The Michigan Department of Natural Resources today announced that highly pathogenic avian influenza is now confirmed in the state’s wild bird population. The disease was identified in free-ranging Canada geese and tundra swans from St. Clair County, in snowy owls from Macomb County, and in a mute swan from Monroe County. Avian influenza is a virus that can infect both free-ranging and domestic poultry such as chickens, turkeys, quail, geese, and swans.
Six Canada geese and two tundra swans collected last week at St. Clair Flats State Wildlife Area and two snowy owls from Macomb County were delivered to the DNR’s Wildlife Disease Laboratory for necropsy. Initial testing was performed at Michigan State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. These tests were non-negative, and the samples forwarded to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames, Iowa, for final confirmation. The DNR received confirmation Thursday, March 24, the geese, swans and owls were infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza, subtype H5N1. An additional positive case was identified in a mute swan from Monroe County on March 15.
This disease detection comes after the state’s first HPAI detection in a backyard, non-commercial poultry flock in Kalamazoo County in late February 2022. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has continued to urge poultry owners to step up 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.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk to people from HPAI viruses to be low. To date, no human HPAI infections have been detected in the United States. Avian influenza has been found in backyard poultry flocks, commercial flocks, and in wild birds.
DNR Director Dan Eichinger said the state’s ongoing focus is working to prevent the disease’s spread in wildlife and domestic poultry.
“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,” said Eichinger. “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.”
The state’s wildlife HPAI plan was developed by DNR’s Wildlife Division in 2006 and updated in 2021. The DNR already practices regular examination of carcasses from mortality events affecting birds. Guided by the plan, the DNR 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. Sites that have received roundup permits will be refunded their application fees. With the cancellation of Canada goose roundup and relocation, the DNR is encouraging nest and egg destruction to resolve conflicts. For 2022, the eligibility requirements for nest and egg destruction will be waived. There is no charge for permits for this activity.
With this type of highly pathogenic avian influenza, there may be an absence of many of the routine signs of illness in domestic poultry. Sudden death and high death losses are major indicators of HPAI. However, sick birds may experience neurological signs; difficulty walking; lack of appetite, energy, or vocalization; significant drop in egg production; swollen combs, wattles, legs, or head; diarrhea; or nasal discharge, sneezing, or coughing.
Wild birds commonly have avian influenza and sometimes spread it to domestic birds through direct or indirect transmission. Ducks and geese are considered carriers; however, geese generally do not pass it on.
MDARD, the DNR, MSU, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Veterinary Services and Wildlife Services are working together to conduct avian influenza surveillance and to monitor health of poultry, livestock, wildlife, and residents in Michigan.
Residents who notice the death loss of three or more free-ranging birds should report it to the DNR through the Eyes in the Field app or by calling 517-336-5030. If your domestic poultry is experiencing severe illness or multiple death losses, contact MDARD at 800-292-3939.