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Avian flu makes its way to the Tampa Bay area

small sea birds stand in the surf
Jacqueline Larma/AP
In this May 22, 2018 photo, ruddy turnstones, larger birds, and semipalmated sandpipers walk near the shoreline at Kimbles Beach, Middle Township NJ. Each spring, shorebirds migrating from South America to the Arctic stop on the sands of Delaware Bay. It's also one of the world's hot-spots for researchers to study bird flu. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma). (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma)

The virus is deadly for birds, but humans aren’t necessarily at risk for infection despite one case in Colorado.

Officials have documented cases of birds in the Tampa Bay area being infected with, and killed by, the H5N1 bird flu.

It marks the first time a highly pathogenic avian influenza has been officially detected in Florida, according to Mark Cunningham, a veterinarian for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

And while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that humans have a low risk of being infected, experts are still keeping a close eye on the outbreak.

There has been one case of a human infection reported in Colorado. The patient, who state health officials said worked with presumptively infected poultry at a commercial farm, reported fatigue as their only symptom and is expected to recover.

Cunningham said that people should be on the lookout for sick or dead birds.

“We urge people to take precautions, not to handle sick or dead birds,” said Cunningham. “And if they do have to handle them, to make sure they sanitize their equipment, wash their hands, that sort of thing.”

There are many ways to know if a bird is infected, according to Cunningham.

“A lot of the birds we see have neurologic signs — swimming in circles, or tremors or seizures,” said Cunningham. “So we would consider any bird that appears sick or depressed, as being at risk for being infected.”

Cunningham also advises people to report any incidents of birds that have died from unknown causes, or any birds that seem ill, to the FWC’s website.

As far as the timetable for the virus, Cunningham said that there is no way to know how things will develop.

“We’re hopeful that as temperatures warm up, the rate of infection will decrease. Our concern is that this virus could be here to stay,” said Cunningham. “But really only time will tell.”

I am a WUSF Rush Family/USF Zimmerman School Digital News Intern for the spring 2022 semester; this is my second internship with the station.