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Avian flu concerns have ZooMontana taking precautions

Posted at 8:28 PM, Apr 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-29 22:42:45-04

BILLINGS — ZooMontana is taking precautions after avian flu was detected this month in Billings. Not only is the virus extremely contagious and dangerous to birds, it’s also transmissible to humans.

The highly pathogenic avian influenza is sweeping the country and is killing birds in Billings.

Seven turkeys were found dead near MSU Billings on April 11; three carcasses tested for bird flu came back positive.

Jeff Ewelt, the director of ZooMontana, said, “Because there are wild turkeys that roam our woods here, we’re mindful of that.”

They’ve put up netting on their chicken coop to protect their birds. “We’re trying to keep the peacocks as close to the barn as we can, and we’re monitoring them very closely,” Ewelt said.

If the situation gets any more dire, they’ll take even more drastic measures.

“We certainly will do everything we can to keep these birds safe, and if that means moving them indoors, we will do that,” said Ewelt.

Dr. Neil Ku is an infectious disease specialist at Billings Clinic; he explained, “One or two chickens getting in contact with an infected bird from somewhere else can easily pass it on to other birds because they’re in a very tight space."

He says it’s not just birds potentially at risk for this highly contagious virus. The U.S. also just saw its first case of avian flu in humans in Colorado. “The person who was identified having it was involved in culling the birds who were infected down in a poultry farm,” said Ku.

Luckily the man has only experienced fatigue, but it’s an example of the virus mutating in “perfect conditions,” Ku said, allowing for human transmission.

Passing it from person to person can happen much more easily, and contracting bird flu is no different than contracting influenza.

“Someone touches it, a bird who has it, and then rub their mucosa - their nose or eyes,” Ku said.

Ku says that if you see dead chickens, or poultry acting strangely, don’t touch them. Call your county health department or Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks so you know exactly what you’re dealing with.