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Snow Geese Fall Dead in Idaho, Avian Cholera Suspected; Fast Cleanup Is Critical

About 2,000 snow geese fell dead from the sky in eastern Idaho, probably from avian cholera; fast cleanup is critical to prevent spread.

On the morning of March 18, CNN reported that approximately 2,000 snow geese fell dead out of the sky in eastern Idaho. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game believes the cause to be avian cholera. If true, that means there is danger to any wildlife that consumes the geese.

Most Idaho Indian reservations are in the western part of the state, but all of the state is under the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds. Idaho officials expressed concern that about 20 eagles had been sighted in the area before the known carcasses were cleaned up. While the lab tests that would confirm avian cholera have not come back yet, the safest course would be to assume dead geese in the area are infected and to clean up the carcasses before scavengers show up to spread the disease further in wild or domesticated animals.

The following information is based on the Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases published by the National Wildlife Health Center, and is offered for people who wish to take precautions.

The probability of a human's becoming infected with the bacterium involved, Pasteurella multocida is very low, but infection can spread not just to wild or domesticated birds, but also big game animals, farm animals, and pets. The bird strains will kill rabbits and mice but probably just make other mammals sick and create a potential for spreading the infection. Depending on the virulence of the strain of bacterium and the general health of the animals, birds can begin to die from avian cholera as little as six hours after exposure, but 24-48 hours is more likely. Scavenger birds such as eagles or crows die as much as two weeks after exposure.

Here’s why fast cleanup is critical:

Environmental contamination from diseased birds is a primary source for infection. High concentrations of P. multocida can be found for several weeks in waters where waterfowl and other birds die from this disease. Wetlands and other areas can be contaminated by the body discharges of diseased birds. As much as 15 milliliters of nasal discharge containing massive numbers of P. multocida have been collected from a single snow goose.

Should you find dead birds, the NWHC recommends that, of course wearing gloves, you pick them up head first, preferably by the bill, and put them in a plastic bag, preferably double-bagging. The recommended disposal method is burning, and you are cautioned to stay upwind of the smoke for safety’s sake.

Until the lab results return, it might be a good idea to notify the Idaho Department of Fish and Game—or similar agencies in other states if the infection spreads that far—to ask if they want to take tissue samples before you burn the carcasses.

The best way to avoid the spread of avian cholera is quick and thorough cleanup.