A Bird Flu outbreak has killed hundreds of vultures at animal sanctuary

More than 700 wild black vultures in Georgia are the latest victims of H5N1, commonly known as bird flu. The dead vultures were discovered August 13 at Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Locust Grove, reports show.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that year-to-date, more than 2,100 wild birds have been detected with influenza. More than 40 million poultry have been affected by the virus.

The outbreak at Noah’s Ark could lead to other birds being at risk. If birds are discovered with H5N1, they may be humanely euthanized. Noah’s Ark is home to ostriches, emu, parrots and other birds. H5N1 is highly pathogenic and causes severe disease and high mortality rates in infected birds, according to the CDC. The CDC said the virus can cause disease that affects many organs with a mortality rate of 90 to 100 percent in chickens, often in less than 48 hours.

Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary posted to Facebook that it would close on August 23 and remain closed through August 27. The post didn’t specify the reason for the closure, but a statement from the organization obtained by Newsweek said it would close during the influenza response, as it had been placed under quarantine by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

“As a natural disease event, the site needs to be contained, cleaned up and then sanitized/disinfected. We are at the contained stage. But our State Agency partners are and will lead clean up and sanitization. They will lead full vulture removal and roost removal and sanitation,” the statement read.

Noah’s Ark officials shared that they would be collaborating with state and federal officials regarding the H5N1 outbreak in the statement. The statement said a week after the vultures were found dead, state and federal teams informed Noah’s Ark that initial testing indicated the cause of death to be avian influenza. Though the disease is still running through the vulture population, none of the parrots or other exotic birds Noah’s Ark cares for have shown any signs of disease, the organization said.

“Noah’s Ark is and will remain in close collaboration with authorities as they lead the charge to manage this,” the statement said. “As a precaution the affected birds on property have been depopulated. Officials are testing and monitoring other birds within the surveillance area and no other birds have tested positive or experienced any clinical signs.”

Noah’s Ark has also tripled its veterinary staff in the last six months, the statement said, in addition to other boosts to its animal care staff.

Forty-five states have reported cases of bird flu, and there has been one human case this year. Typically, the virus spreads amongst wild birds and can affect domesticated poultry. Chickens are particularly susceptible to the bird flu and can spread the virus to their human owners, however, the disease has a “very low” risk of transmission to humans, according to the statement from Noah’s Ark.

The CDC suggests humans limit their contact with wild birds. People are encouraged to cook poultry to an internal temperate of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill viruses and bacteria, including bird flu.

The CDC reports that the U.S. government maintains a stockpile of vaccines, including vaccines against H5N1 if a breakout were to occur among people.