Dec 31 An unusual wintertime outbreak of West
Nile virus has killed more than two dozen bald eagles in Utah
and thousands of shore birds around the Great Salt Lake, state
wildlife officials said on Tuesday.
At least 27 bald eagles have died this month in the northern
and central parts of Utah from the blood-borne virus, and state
biologists reported that five more ailing eagles were responding
to treatment at rehabilitation centers.
The eagles are believed to have contracted the disease by
preying on sick or dead shore birds called eared grebes that
were infected by West Nile virus, said Leslie McFarlane, Utah
wildlife disease coordinator.
The water birds have died by the thousands in and around the
Great Salt Lake since November. Initial testing suggested an
infectious bacterial disease such as avian cholera caused the
deaths, but findings released on Tuesday showed West Nile virus
was the culprit, McFarlane said.
The dead birds do not pose a risk to people, Utah Health
Department epidemiologist JoDee Baker said in a statement. Yet
Baker urged those who find sick or dead birds to avoid handling
Utah wildlife specialists said bird deaths tied to West Nile
virus were unusual in wintertime in Utah since mosquitoes - the
primary vector - are not usually active during colder months.
West Nile virus can live for a few days in carcasses of
infected birds and can be transmitted to birds of prey and
scavengers that feed on them, according to the federal Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 2 million eared grebes stage at the Great Salt
Lake amid a yearly winter migration from Canada and U.S. states
west of the Mississippi River, according to the Cornell Lab of
Ornithology in Ithaca, New York.
The water birds are expected to end their stopover in Utah
and fly to the Southwestern United States and Mexico the second
week of January, reducing the disease risk to bald eagles,
From 750 to 1,200 bald eagles migrate to wintering grounds
in Utah each year, she said.
Bald eagles, the national symbol of the United States, were
removed from the federal threatened and endangered species list
in 2007 after they soared back from near extinction.
(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; editing by Steve Gorman and