The Philadelphia Zoo has joined zoos across the country in protecting their birds from the deadly bird flu that has itself become a widespread epidemic.
In response to the flu that has already killed millions of birds across the country, the Philadelphia Zoo has quarantined its birds. “Everything from emus to bald eagles to penguins to flamingos, they’re all housed indoors right now,” said Rachel Metz, vice president of animal welfare at the zoo. Philadelphia.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza is caused by a virus related to but different from seasonal influenza in humans, Metz said. The Eurasian H5N1 strain, known as H5, is the dominant strain currently proliferating in birds, especially poultry.
Birds excrete the virus through their feces and nasal secretions. Experts say it can be spread through contaminated equipment, clothing, boots and vehicles carrying supplies. Research has shown that small birds sneaking into zoo exhibits or buildings can also spread the flu, and mice can even follow it indoors.
Birds that live in zoos are susceptible to virus particles detected by visitors.
“Unfortunately, people can unwittingly spread the disease to the bottom of their shoes or the tires of their vehicles simply by walking or driving through bird feces,” Metz said. “Obviously we have a lot of wild birds flying above us, it’s spring migration. This therefore has a significant impact on the spread of this virus. »
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Nearly 23 million chickens and turkeys have already been euthanized across the United States to limit the spread of the virus, and zoos like the Philadelphia Zoo are doing everything they can to prevent the same from happening. . Many zoos fear that they will have to kill some of the endangered species if infected.
When cases of bird flu are found in poultry, authorities order the entire flock to be killed because the virus is so contagious. However, the United States Department of Agriculture has indicated that zoos may be able to avoid this by isolating infected birds and possibly euthanizing a small number of them.
Among the precautions zoos take is keeping birds in small groups so that if a case is discovered, only a few are affected. The USDA and state veterinarians would make the final decision on which birds to kill.
Symptoms of infection in birds include:
Strange behavior due to neurological effects.
Officials emphasize that bird flu does not compromise the safety of meat or eggs or pose a significant risk to human health. No infected birds are allowed in the food supply, and proper cooking of poultry and eggs kills bacteria and viruses. No human cases have been found in the United States, according to the CDC.
Although none of the birds at the Philadelphia Zoo were infected Wednesday afternoon, the zoo is on the highest state of alert and has activated biosecurity protocols following recent reports of birds in Pennsylvania dying from the virus, Metz said.
Biosecurity measures at the zoo include disinfecting shoes when people enter birding areas and zookeepers wearing masks, gloves and face shields when working with birds, similar to COVID-19 safety precautions .
The biggest step the zoo has taken is to move all the birds indoors, Metz said. All the birds that used to live in semi-open habitats are now indoors and visitors won’t be able to see them until the flu outbreak subsides. All zoo birds were tested before being quarantined.
“So it’s not something we’re excited to do because we’re entering our busy season and spring break is upon us and we really want to share these animals with our visitors. But we also had to weigh the health and safety of our birds in relation to that,” Metz said.
The rest of the zoo is open to the public, with visitors encouraged to see the rest of the animals including lions, tigers, great apes, rhinos and giraffes.
“People can still come and enjoy the zoo even if the birds are inside,” Metz said.