Bird Flu Spreads to Bald Eagles in US Outbreak

Carolyn Crist

April 20, 2022

Bird flu, which has been spreading across the U.S. and affecting birds in most states, has now been detected in bald eagles.

At least 36 bald eagles have died in 14 states after contracting the virus, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Eagles in two other states are suspected of being sick.

The U.S. is reporting the worst outbreak of avian influenza since 2015, particularly for domestic poultry deaths, according to The Guardian. Bird flu is severely affecting wild birds as well.

The most recent strain, H5N1, has been detected in more than 600 wild birds in more than 30 states, with most of the known cases located east of Colorado. North Carolina has reported the highest number so far with 143 cases.

Last week, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources reported the virus in three dead bald eagles, which were in counties along the coast.

"In Georgia's six coastal counties, annual DNR aerial surveys of nesting bald eagles have revealed more failed nests – those that did not fledge young – than expected," the department wrote. "Some nests had dead eaglets. Others were missing young that usually would not have left the nest yet."

Based on early data, Georgia's nest success along the coast is likely down about 30% this year, the department reported. Eagles may have gotten the virus by preying or scavenging on dead or sick waterbirds that had bird flu.

The strain, also called "highly pathogenic avian influenza," has been found in bald eagles in Florida, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Wild birds can be infected with the virus but show no signs of illness, the USDA reported. The department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service says it expects more cases to show up in more states as wild bird tracking continues this spring.

"They can carry the disease to new areas when migrating, potentially exposing domestic poultry to the virus," the department wrote.

The USDA and poultry industry experts have watched the virus spread across the country, and it is now active in poultry in 29 states. Since January, the virus has been detected in more than 28 million commercial and backyard flocks, including chickens and turkeys, according to the latest CDC update.

So far, the risk of transmitting the virus to humans is low, the CDC reported. As of Tuesday, no human infections had been documented in the U.S. for the H5N1 strain.

To prevent the spread of bird flu, people should avoid handling sick or dead birds and keep pets away from wild birds. People should report dead birds to their state wildlife agency or state health department, the CDC advised.

"As a general precaution, whenever possible people should avoid direct contact with wild birds and observe them only from a distance," the CDC wrote in updated guidance.


The Guardian: "Bird flu spreads to bald eagles as outbreak sweeps across US."

U.S. Department of Agriculture: "2022 Detections of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Wild Birds."

Georgia Department of Natural Resources: "Avian Influenza Detected in Bald Eagles in Georgia."

CDC: "Bird Flu Current Situation Summary," "Prevention and Antiviral Treatment of Bird Flu Viruses in People."


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