Virulent disease confirmed in Minnesota water birds

The National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, reports that several wild water birds from two Minnesota lakes have tested positive for the virulent form of Newcastle disease. This strain of virus can be highly contagious among double-crested cormorants, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The birds that tested positive were from Minnesota Lake in Faribault County, Pigeon Lake in Meeker County, and Lake Kabetogama in Voyageurs National Park, according to Dr. Erika Butler (DVM), DNR wildlife veterinarian.

The DNR is working closely on this issue with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH), the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The agency is also collaborating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Wildlife Health Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, and alerting surrounding states and provinces to the lab results.

There is little threat to humans from the disease.

“Newcastle rarely affects humans, generally causing conjunctivitis, a relatively mild inflammation of the inner eyelids. It is spread to humans by close contact with sick birds,” says Joni Scheftel (DVM, MPH), MDH state public health veterinarian.

“The department recommends that people avoid touching dead birds. DNR staff required to collect the birds will follow biohealth guidelines. Some of the dead bird collection areas may also be off-limits to visitors until carcass clean-up is complete.”

Since first discovered in July, the DNR reported that more than 900 double-crested cormorants, with smaller numbers of American white pelicans and other water birds, were discovered dead or dying at Minnesota Lake and Pigeon Lake. Since then, DNR staff has found dead or dying birds on the other lakes, including Angle Island WMA (Wildlife Management Area) on Lake of the Woods, Marsh Lake, and Lake Mille Lacs.

Lab tests on these birds are pending and could take weeks.

More information appears in this week’s issue of the Messenger or subscribe to the on-line E-dition of the paper.