Scientists at the U.S. Geological Surveys (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center are concerned that avian cholera, which recently killed about 30,000 eared grebes--small, diving water birds--at Great Salt Lake, Utah, could spread as birds migrate south for the winter, the agency announced today. Last week, USGS scientists isolated Pasteurella multocida, the bacterium that causes avian cholera, from dead grebes that were sent to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. USGS scientists are working with Utah biologists to monitor the situation.
"We havent observed significant avian cholera outbreaks in North America since 1998, so we arent certain if this mortality represents an isolated event or a renewal of regular outbreaks," says Mike Samuel, a USGS scientist and avian cholera expert. "Because recent research shows that birds are the primary reservoir for maintaining and spreading this disease, we need to consider the possibility that grebes and other birds will spread avian cholera beyond the Great Salt Lake during their migration to wintering areas." Each fall about 1.5 million eared grebes congregate at the Great Salt Lake as they migrate south.
Avian cholera is the most common infectious disease among wild North American waterfowl. Once birds are infected with P. multocida, they die quickly, sometimes within 6 to 12 hours after infection. Bacteria spread by dead and dying birds can subsequently infect healthy birds. As a result, avian cholera can sweep quickly through a wetland and kill thousands of birds in a single outbreak.
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