20 Vultures Found Dead At Conowingo Dam: MDA Works To Prevent The Spread Of Avian Flu


A view from atop the Conowingo Dam/Bridge. (Credit: Google/Google Earth)

HARFORD COUNTY - The Conowingo Dam in northern Harford County is a popular destination for bird watchers. Avian enthusiasts visit from around the region to catch a glimpse of the bald eagles that nest near the bridge.

Recently, some bird watchers may have witnessed more than they signed up for. Last week, around 20 dead black vultures were discovered at the entrance to Fisherman's Park near the dam, CBS news reports.

The carcasses were sent to a lab by the Maryland Department of Agriculture for testing, and the results are in: the vultures died from Avian flu.

"We tested them for highly pathogenic Avian Influenza, and they did test positive," the state veterinarian for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Dr. Michael Odian, told CBS.

The Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Dept of the Environment, and USDA are working to remove infected vulture carcasses before other vultures eat them, further spreading the disease.

"The black vultures are carnivorous," Odian said. "When a non-sick vulture eats the sick vulture, it infects itself."

The Wildflower trail and the nearby public parking lot have been closed to prevent the spread of disease. According to the USDA, visitors can unknowingly spread the virus by stepping on droppings and tracking them to nearby poultry operations.

Poultry farmers around the country are losing their entire flocks to the bird flu, which has a 90 to 100 percent mortality rate in chickens.

In January 2022, the U.S. detected its first case in wild birds since 2016. The virus reached a commercial turkey poultry farm the next month. That was the country's first commercial infection since 2020.

Maryland Department of Agriculture spokesperson Jessica Hackett said the disease has since "spread like wildfire."

The bird flu has hit 804 flocks and prompted almost 59 million bird deaths around the U.S.

Odian added that poultry farmers are urged to quarantine their birds. The public is being asked to avoid contaminated areas and watch where they step.

As the disease continues to spread among birds in Maryland, WJZ reports that the Maryland Zoo has closed its bird exhibits to prevent further spread. Even the famed Ravens mascots, Rise and Conquer, are sheltering from the virus.

Though chickens are at high risk, it is essential to note that humans face little threat of catching the bird flu.

The U.S. saw its lone human case in April 2022. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has only reported ten human infections worldwide since July 2021. The CDC also said there has not been any known human-to-human spread of the bird flu.

Human cases have ranged in severity from no symptoms to severe disease resulting in death. Flu antiviral drugs can treat humans who do get sick. The federal government is developing bird flu vaccines for humans in case they are needed.

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