Onslow County wildlife sanctuary says highly contagious bird flu spreading across ENC

Published: Jan. 2, 2023 at 8:26 PM EST
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ONSLOW COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - An animal sanctuary here in Eastern Carolina is raising awareness as, over the weekend, it received an influx of calls from folks discovering birds that had fallen from the sky.

Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary said cold weather tends to bring a rise in the spread of a virus that threatens wild and domesticated birds. It’s called, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) also known as Bird Flu.

Possumwood Acres Wildlife Sanctuary in Onslow County is dedicated to helping rehabilitate and release injured animals but bird flu is not something they can treat. We’re told that the strand circulating here in the east is highly contagious.

“If somebody brought us a diseased pelican with the highly pathogenic avian influenza that spread into our animal building and out to these grounds, we would have to euthanize every single bird that’s here. We would have to shut down and we don’t want to that happen,” said Toni O’Neil, sanctuary founder, and executive director

The U.S Department of Agriculture Animal Health and Inspection Services is reporting the third highest spread along the eastern coastline. And while there is a concern for birds, “There is a very, very, very, very low transmission rate to humans,” according to O’Neil.

At last check, there were around 176 cases detected in our state, but that is only what is reported.

“If that is what’s being reported, what representation of that on the landscape of the number of birds that are actually dying from it,” said State Biologist Chris Kent. “So, the ones that we are finding and the ones being reported to us, that number [possibly] could be could be pretty small in comparison to overall impact to our bird population.”

While the sanctuary can’t risk infecting its own birds, Possumwood officials said it will assist with euthanizing any brought to them with the incurable disease.

“We know this is an incurable disease. What we want to do is end the suffering,” said O’Neil. “We will come out, take it from you, put it in our container. We will offer you hand sanitizer, allow you to go home and wash. Then once they have left we will then humanely euthanize it. That’s not something we are going to do that the person has to witness it.”

The main signs to be on the look for are mostly neurological – stumbling and tremors or discoloration in the skin. Purple discoloration of the wattles, comb, and legs.

When you do come into contact with a sick animal, they ask you to wear gloves, and have a bag you can put them in. As for clothes immediately change once you’re done being in contact with the bird and then shower.

Possumwood is open and taking in injured animals they nurse back to help, but if you see a bird and are unsure if it is sick or not, you can call the sanctuary or contact state organizations.

Possumwood Acre’s phone number is (910) 326-6432. Their email, address and website can be found on their Facebook page.

As for the state’s help, you can contact the North Carolina State Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at (919)-707-3250, or visit their website www.ncagr.gov/avianflu

Another resource is the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission. Visit their website and type “Avian Flu” in the search bar at the top right of the screen.