Great horned owl

A great horned owl sits in a tree in the Island area of Logan.

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The first case of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Utah’s wild birds was recently confirmed, authorities say, after a dead great horned owl located in Cache Valley tested positive.

The owl was found dead on April 29, according to a news release Wednesday from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and sent to the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Logan for testing. The owl was then sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, where avian influenza was confirmed.

Avian flu tests are also pending for other dead owls found in Cache and Weber counties.

“There’s been six owls total,” said Ginger Stout, a wildlife veterinarian with the DWR. “I do suspect that they are (positive for avian influenza).”

Stout said the owl that tested positive was found near Lewiston.

The first confirmed cases of avian influenza in the state were found in domestic birds in Utah County last month. Since then the contagious disease was confirmed on a Cache County farm and at Zootah at Willow Park.

According to the release, songbirds are not typically affected by HPAI. Those with bird feeders shouldn’t have to remove them unless they have backyard chickens or domestic ducks. The DWR recommends regular cleaning of bird baths and feeders, however.

The current strain of avian influenza presents a low risk to humans, though it was confirmed in at least one individual in Colorado, the release states. For general safety, however, the DWR states people should not handle dead birds.

“If anyone finds a group of five or more dead waterfowl or shorebirds or any individual dead scavengers or raptors, they should report it to the nearest DWR office and absolutely make sure not to touch the birds or pick them up,” Stout said in the release. “Just report it to us, and we will come collect them for testing. We are continuing to monitor this virus in wild bird populations. It typically doesn’t have much of an impact on the overall populations of waterfowl, but it’s likely that we will have some die now that it’s been confirmed in wild birds in the state.”

Stout said waterfowl and shorebirds can carry avian influenza asymptomatically and spread it to other birds. Raptors, ducks, and birds in the poultry industry are the most likely to be affected, according to Stout.

“There’s definitely more mortalities that were noted in the last three weeks,” Stout said.

Stout reiterated the strain of avian influenza is of low risk to people and that folks shouldn’t handle dead birds if they are located.

“I think it’s just a matter of being safe outside,” Stout said.

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