Alberta wildlife rescue responding to 'highly pathogenic' avian flu cases
The new avian flu is creating challenges for Alberta's largest animal rescue organization as it responds to suspected cases.
Non-profit Wild North provides emergency care to injured wild birds and small mammals. Avian flu is an infectious virus spread primarily among birds. Once infected, the virus attacks the internal organs of the bird, causing death in nine out of 10 cases.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, as of last week, it is estimated more than 1.8 million birds have been impacted by the pathogenic virus, including around 937,000 in Alberta — the most in any Canadian jurisdiction.
Dale Gienow, Wild North's executive director and rescue manager, says the organization has seen dozens of suspected cases.
"We've actually sent a few in for testing, and thus far, we've had snow geese, some Canada geese, a peregrine falcon, bald eagle all test positive with the virus," Gienow told CTV News Edmonton.
"Technically speaking, the birds can recover from the avian flu," he added. "Statistically, it's improbable. Some species are more likely to recover than others."
To protect staff and other animals in their care, Gienow said the organization has introduced strict protocols to limit the spread of the virus.
"We receive 3,500 animals a year, and capacity's a problem," he said. "We're trying to keep these animals separated in different quarantine areas, and (for) many cases, they have to be quarantined for a month."
"The real concern right now, of course, is this virus (being) in chicken barns and animals that are for human consumption," Gienow added. "This is where the province is really concentrating their testing."
A quarantine trailer has been set up to keep animals that have tested positive or are displaying symptoms separate from the rest of the rescue shelter. Staff don PPE as well to limit spread.
Gienow says the wildlife rescue organization's helpline has received several calls about birds acting abnormally, a sign it has been infected with the virus.
"They're acting drunk and there's a discharge coming from the beak," he said. "(Those are) telltale symptoms."
Many of the local cases have been driven by migratory birds, moving from south of the province into Alberta or further north.
"These migratory animals are spreading it to our local populations, and we're also dealing with those migratory individuals," Gienow said.
While spread is usually limited to within bird populations, Gienow said the rescue group has seen some wild mammals infected with the virus.
"We've seen transfer to fox, kits, skunks, so presumably these animals are eating infected birds and getting the virus," Gienow said.
Gienow recommends that people do their part to keep the virus from spreading among animal populations by holding off on putting up bird feeders, baths, or houses.
"This is a very highly pathogenic virus," he said. "So, whenever we do things to encourage lots of animals, lots of birds coming into one place, it's probably something we should put on hold for now.
"Take a little break," he added. "A lot of these cases are going to start to go down dramatically when these migratory birds have gone through. We're still going to see some local residents here in the summer that have it, but the cases should go down, so I would hold off until the fall at least."
Wild North is hoping people will donate funds or items it needs to help animals until the virus is gone.
With files from CTV News.ca
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