Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
The current outbreak of the highly pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI, has already killed nearly 23 million birds in 24 states, mostly in the Midwest, but as close to New Mexico as Texas and Colorado, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Most of the bird deaths have been in poultry, but all bird species are susceptible.
While many zoos across the country are temporarily closing their bird exhibits, it’s “business as usual” at the ABQ BioPark Zoo, where the avian flu has not been detected, according to Associate BioPark Director Bob Lee.
However, “our veterinarians and bird curator have been continuously monitoring the situation in the U.S.,” Lee said. “Like every year when an avian influenza virus is active, we do, as a precautionary measure, have contingency plans to move the BioPark’s birds indoors temporarily if there are verifiable cases of HPAI closer to Albuquerque.”
According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wild birds do not typically die from HPAI nor do they always appear ill. It is most commonly found in waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls and seabirds, where it occurs naturally.
The virus, however, is highly contagious and can be deadly to domestic poultry, but all birds can be susceptible, Lee said, adding that the seriousness of the illness and death rate varies by species.
The disease is transmitted via contact with an infected bird’s feces, or secretions from its nose, mouth or eyes.
Transmission of the flu from birds to humans is possible but infrequent, according to the CDC. The agency recommends avoiding contact with poultry that may be ill or may have died from the HPAI, as well as avoiding contact with surfaces that may be contaminated with feces from wild or domestic birds.
The USDA, however, says there is no evidence that bird flu can be passed to humans who eat contaminated poultry products, which should be cooked thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
A record for avian flu in the United States was set in 2014-15 when 50 million chickens and turkeys were euthanized at 200 poultry farms in 15 states. The disease at the time cost the poultry industry $3 billion and required another $1 billion in federal spending, according to a report on the Food Safety News website.