Newcastle disease suspected in bird die-offs in Minnesota

Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A virus suspected to be Newcastle disease has killed hundreds of birds on Pigeon Lake in west-central Minnesota and on Minnesota Lake in southern Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday.

Around 700 double-breasted cormorants, 100 pelicans and some gulls, herons and egrets had been found sick and dead as of last week at Pigeon Lake, near Litchfield, while fewer than 100 birds were affected at Minnesota Lake, in Faribault County. DNR wildlife veterinarian Erika Butler said final lab results are expected later this month, but tests have ruled out avian influenza, also known as bird flu.

Other bird die-offs have been reported this summer on Leech Lake and Lake Vermilion in northern Minnesota and the Canadian side of Rainy Lake. Test results on those birds are also expected in two or three weeks, Butler said.

Newcastle outbreaks in 2008 and 2010 killed several thousand birds across Minnesota. In 1992, an estimated 35,000 cormorants died across the Great Lakes, upper Midwest and Canada.

Butler said DNR officials haven't heard of outbreaks elsewhere this summer but will be contacting other states soon. She said outbreaks aren't weather related, but seem to follow two-year cycles.

The disease most commonly infects cormorants, but also gulls and pelicans. Symptoms include droopy heads or twisted necks, lack of coordination, inability to fly or dive and complete or partial paralysis. Juveniles are most commonly affected. Newcastle rarely affects humans. When it does, symptoms include conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the eyelids also known as "pink eye." It spreads to humans by close contact with sick birds.

Wild birds can spread it to domestic poultry, particularly backyard flocks, Butler said. Producers are advised to prevent their flocks from coming into contact with wild birds.