Mountain lion near Gunnison found to have had bird flu

Be aware and protect your pets and yourself

[  by Mark Reaman  ]

While rare that the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), more commonly known as the bird flu, is discovered in mammals, count Gunnison County as a place to be marked with such a rare occurrence. A deceased mountain lion found near the city of Gunnison on January 15 was analyzed and determined to have HPAI. What that means is that it is still rare for mammals to contract the disease, but it does happen, and it could impact other wildlife and even pets and people in the area.

“I think the most important thing for people to remember is that this is first and foremost a disease among bird species. Wherever waterfowl are present, it is expected that HPAI is currently present,” said Southwest Region public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife John Livingston. “While we have confirmed a few mammal cases, the concern here is still primarily with wild and domestic bird populations. Transmission to other wild animals most likely happens when they feed on wild birds that are sick or have died from HPAI. It’s also important to note that not every wild animal that does feed on a bird with HPAI will become sick or die.”

As far as humans, the CPW says HPAI strains can infect people very rarely but it can happen, so it is important to protect yourself. Avoid handling sick or dead birds and keep a distance from wildlife. Livingston said anyone handling birds should utilize personal protective equipment such as rubber or latex gloves. People should not eat wildlife found sick or dead.

HPAI has already killed thousands of wild birds in the U.S., including in Colorado. HPAI has been particularly contagious among domestic poultry. Three cases of this bird flu have now been confirmed in mammals in the state. They include the mountain lion found near Gunnison, a black bear in Huerfano County and a skunk from Weld County. Other deceased mammals are being tested. According to the CPW, symptoms of the disease include seizures or circling, general signs of illness including weakness or lack of responsiveness to human presence, and organ damage including encephalitis, hepatitis, and pneumonia.

The mountain lion, found near Gunnison in a place common for mountain lion habitat, had necrosis in the liver and broncho interstitial pneumonia which had been seen in domestic cats with HPAI. “Similar to many local species, mountain lions move through our communities on a regular basis as they travel between seasonal ranges throughout the year,” said CPW area wildlife manager Brandon Diamond of Gunnison. “It was only a matter of time before the first HPAI case was confirmed in Gunnison County based on known cases in adjacent counties. While this is an interesting case study with the lion, it’s important to point out that HPAI has been documented previously in a variety of mammals from across the country. In Gunnison County, CPW routinely investigates reports of sick and injured wildlife and is always interested in hearing from the public if they encounter something that doesn’t look quite right.”

CPW is currently focusing surveillance by species, county and season. Once HPAI has been confirmed in a certain species and county, Livingston said the organization will not test additional birds of that species within that county until the next season. “We still appreciate reports of sick and dying birds to help inform us of the extent of an event, but we do not need to test every sick or dead bird,” he explained. “Testing of mammals is on a case by case basis determined by the wildlife officers and biologists who may find reason to send an animal in for testing.

“Mammalian cases across the country have included some species such as various bears, foxes, raccoons and bobcats, animals that are also found in Colorado,” emphasized Livingston. “It is important to remember that these cases are rare and this issue remains primarily a concern among wild and domestic bird populations. But it’s also important to keep pets away from wildlife at all times, and people should always keep their pets away from dead birds or other animal carcasses.”

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