Bird flu virus that has been killing bald eagles found at Tompkins pheasant farm

A suspected outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus, or "bird flu," has been detected in pheasants at Reynolds Game Farm in Tompkins County.

The DEC began investigating suspicious deaths at the farm, which propagates pheasants to be released for hunting, on March 20. On Wednesday, the DEC announced that initial lab tests indicate the presence of the H5N1 avian influenza (AI) virus in the farm's pheasant population.

The H5N1 viruses were first detected in the U.S. in early 2022 and affects both wild birds as well as commercial and backyard poultry flocks. The World Health Organization reports the strains arose in 2020 from previous circulating viruses and was spread through migratory birds to many parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has detected HPAI in wild bird populations throughout the continental U.S. and Alaska. By February 2023, over 6,200 wild birds were reported infected with H5N1 viruses, including ducks, geese, hawks, and eagles.

The USDA also reports over 58 million chickens have been affected by the virus in 47 states.

States where avian influenza strain H5N! has been detected in wild birds in the United States.
States where avian influenza strain H5N! has been detected in wild birds in the United States.

According to the DEC, the viruses "has been previously confirmed in wild birds in Tompkins County, where Reynolds Game Farm is located."

DEC's Bureau of Wildlife owns and operates Reynolds Game Farm and stated that the farm "employs rigorous biosecurity protocols, including fencing and overhead netting to prevent large birds like hawks, owls, ducks, geese, and gulls from getting into the pens. Staff also conduct regular disease surveillance."

For owners of backyard poultry flocks, the CDC offers guidance for detecting bird flu. Backyard flock owners should report suspected illness in your birds to the appropriate state veterinarian or U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA reports several cases of Canada geese, snow goose, and an American crow testing positive for H5N1 viruses in Tompkins County. In nearby Yates, Onondaga, and Seneca counties, mallards were among the wild birds infected.

Bald eagle populations have been harmed by the viruses, with University of Georgia researchers finding that H5N1 is responsible for an "alarming rate" of bald eagle deaths and nest failures. In New York, bald eagles with the virus have been found in at least a dozen counties, including Steuben, Onondaga, and Saratoga counties.

The viruses have caused illnesses and death in mammals, reports the USDA. In Tompkins and Cayuga counties, the H5N1 virus has been detected in several red foxes and a striped skunk.

While have been reports of human infection with H5N1 viruses, including one reported U.S. infection in April 2022, the viruses are "believed to pose a low risk to the health of the general public in the United States," according to the CDC. The DEC stated "The risk of a person becoming infected is low."

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This article originally appeared on Ithaca Journal: Bird flu H5N1 found at Tompkins County pheasant farm