Tracy Aviary to take precautions after bird flu found in Utah County chickens

Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Utah officials say the first confirmed cases of the highly pathogenic avian influenza in Utah were from a small flock of chickens in a Utah County backyard. (Allison McAdams, Shutterstock)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Tracy Aviary is taking precautions days after the first case of a new bird flu was detected in Utah.

Given the low risk to humans, staff at the Salt Lake City aviary said the precautions won’t prevent people from visiting, but aim to instead reduce contact for birds at the aviary with wild birds that can fly in. It has temporarily closed its Kennecott Wetlands and Backyard Bird exhibits and made modifications to its Treasures of the Rainforest exhibit.

Netting was also recently added over other exhibits to help stop wild birds from congregating with species at the aviary.

“This strain of (highly pathogenic avian influenza) is especially concerning for poultry, pheasant and waterfowl species, and can be highly infectious and fatal to birds,” said Kate Lyngle-Cowand, the curator of exhibit collections at Tracy Aviary, in a statement Monday. “So we are taking several preventive measures that will help keep our resident birds healthy.”

State agriculture officials said earlier in the day a small flock of chickens were “depopulated” after they were found to be infected with the bird flu on Friday. They are Utah’s first confirmed cases of the highly pathogenic avian influenza.

All the infected birds, which were a part of a small backyard flock of chickens in Utah County, were euthanized and their area was quarantined in an effort to prevent the disease from spreading, according to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. Officials did not say exactly where in Utah County the cases were located but a department map of possibly impacted areas includes Orem, Provo and a few communities surrounding the two cities.

“Our state veterinarian’s office was notified of symptomatic birds in Utah County and our team was immediately dispatched to assess the situation,” said Utah State Veterinarian Dr. Dean Taylor, in a statement Monday. “Proper steps have been taken to prevent further spread of the disease.”

Avian influenza is caused by the influenza type A virus that can infect poultry, such as chickens, and can be carried by free flying waterfowl like ducks, geese and shorebirds, according to the Department of Agriculture.

The current outbreak was first found in American wigeon in South Carolina back in January, and since spread to more than two dozen states. The US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service lists hundreds of wild bird species that died from the virus, ranging from mallards to owls, vultures and bald eagles.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says none of the cases found in birds have transferred to humans. However, it has led to millions of hens having to be killed off and rising egg prices, CNN reported earlier this month.

Still, state officials advise anyone with birds in Utah County to “vigilantly watch” their flock for symptoms of the bird flu, which include high death loss among flocks, or birds with nasal discharge, decreased appetite, increased water consumption, or lack of coordination .

Anyone who notices these symptoms is encouraged to email the state veterinarian’s office at [email protected]

State officials also urge Utahns to use proper cooking safety for all poultry and eggs, which is an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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