Reports were received that hundreds of birds washed up on the shores of St. Lawrence Island. Deadbirds and some sick birds were viewed in the vicinity of the communities of Gambell and Savoonga, including crested auklets, Northern fulmar and thick-billed murres. The event was reported in a story by Alaska Public Media and by Anchorage Daily News. Mike Brubaker, Center for Climate and Health, ANTHC
Avian Cholera Confirmed on St. Lawrence Island. On December 4th, 2013 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game published a press release with the results of birds tested from St. Lawrence Island. The bird die-off event is thought to have been caused by Avian Cholera, a bacterial infection relatively common in waterfowl in other places, but previously undetected in Alaska. Avian cholera although highly contagious for birds is not considered to be a significant health concern for people. The press release reads as follows:
The highly contagious bacterium, Pasteurella multocida,has caused many large die-offs of wild waterfowl worldwide and causes one of the most common diseases of domestic poultry. The closest avian cholera events to Alaska in the past decade involved common eiders and snow geese in Nunavut and Northwest Territories, Canada. It is not related to the infection in people referred to as ‘cholera’.
Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen, Wildlife Veterinarian and Wildlife Disease Specialist says that the speedy detection of the disease was a result of two factors. Citizens of Gambell and Savoonga quickly reported seeing sick and dead birds beginning November 20th. The University of Alaska’s Marine Advisory Program Biologist Gay Sheffield who is stationed in Nome received a dead thick-billed murre, a Northern fulmar and a crested auklet and sent the U.S. Geological Service National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, WI.The diagnosis was made on December 4.Dr. Beckmen said that before the diagnosis was confirmed, local residents had shared concerns about possible causes relating to the environment, and were worried that humans might be susceptible.
Pasteurella multocida is commonly found among both domestic and wild birds but different strains or sub types are found in other animals such as rodents. “Strains of the avian cholera bacteria are adapted to infect birds are not generally a high risk for infection for people,” Dr.Beckmen said. “However, it is always advisable to cook meat thoroughly and never eat sick birds or animals that may have died from a disease. Anyone touching a sick animal should wear gloves and wash hands with soap and waterafter handling animals or butchering meat.”
Dead birds in these outbreaks still contain high numbersof bacteria and can infect other birds. Outbreaks are usually handled byremoving the carcasses as soon as possible, but options for disposal on St.Lawrence Island are limited. The Dept. of Environmental Conservation recommendsputting carcasses in vented, empty fuel drums that prevent scavenger spread andallow the carcasses to decompose though next summer. Avian cholera outbreaksare typically localized events that end fairly quickly within a few weeks, andBeckmen noted that the number of sick and dead birds reported is decreasing.People who wish to report sick or dead wildlife should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or phone thenearest ADF&G office.
LEO Network members are encouraged to stay alert for dead or sick birds and to post their observations. The location where a bird is foundshould be documented, and a photograph should be taken. For sharing informationor guidance about sick birds contact Alaska Department of Fish and Game dfg.dwc.vet@al