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Health

Raptor program takes precautions as avian flu is confirmed in Wyoming

Buffalo Bill Center of the West live raptor program staff and volunteers showcase three raptors to a crowd in the summer.
Melissa Hill

The first case of avian influenza was confirmed in Wyoming last week. The highly deadly disease was found in Johnson County in a non-poultry backyard flock.

Since then it has also been confirmed in Park County. So far it has only infected backyard flocks.

Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease that can infect chickens, raptors and other birds. It causes severe illness and even in some cases sudden death in birds.

Melissa Hill is the live raptor program manager at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody. The program has 12 raptors.

"The biggest reason that it's so scary when you're working with raptors is that usually, the first symptom is sudden death," said Hill.

As a result, they are taking many precautions to make sure the raptors don't get infected.

"Our bald eagle has an exhibit so that guests can come see him. He has been removed from his exhibit and brought inside a building," said Hill. "We have their windows covered so that they don't have exposure to that open air."

The open air is worrisome because the disease spreads through respiratory symptoms like coughing, spit, etc. It can also be carried on surfaces like shoes, clothing and tires from place to place. Hill said they are keeping the raptors inside and making sure anyone handling the birds is wearing clean clothing.

The USDA is asking anyone who owns birds to watch for respiratory symptoms and to report any sick birds. The avian flu can be extremely fatal to chickens and spread flock-to-flock. In very rare cases, the disease can spread to humans, but currently, the CDC says it doesn't present a public health concern.

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