First Texas case of highly pathogenic avian flu found in Wichita County

The first case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in a wild bird in Texas was confirmed this week in Wichita County.

The National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed the presence of HPAI in a great horned owl at a rehab facility, which quickly notified the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) after the owl began to show clinical signs of HPAI.

This case of HPAI follows an early April detection of the disease in a commercial pheasant flock located in Erath County, says TPWD.

HPAI, a highly contagious virus that transmits easily among wild and domestic bird species, has been detected in 38 states. Symptoms include diarrhea, incoordination, lethargy, coughing and sneezing and sudden death, though birds infected with HPAI may not always have outward signs of infection. 

The virus may spread in a variety of ways, including through contact with infected wild and domestic birds as well as by contaminated equipment, clothing and shoes of caretakers, says TPWD. Because of the ease of transmission, TPWD recommends facilities with wild or domestic birds enhance their biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of introduction. 

The National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed the presence of HPAI in a great horned owl at a rehab facility in Wichita County. ((Photo by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images))

Furthermore, the public can assist in interrupting HPAI transmission by limiting all unnecessary contact with wild birds, says TPWD. Wildlife rehabilitators should also remain cautious when intaking wild birds with clinical signs of HPAI and consider quarantining birds to limit the potential for exposure within the facility.

Currently, the transmission risk from infected birds to people remains low, but the public is advised to take basic protective measures (i.e., wearing gloves, face masks and hand washing) if contact with wild birds cannot be avoided. TPWD also recommends contacting the Texas Department of State Health Services for more information on the potential of HPAI to spread to humans and how to reduce exposure risk.

Those who locate birds with signs of HPAI should immediately contact their local TPWD wildlife biologist or their Texas Animal Health Commission Region Office, says TPWD.