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Wildlife agency: No confirmed cases of mystery bird illness in Tennessee yet
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Wildlife agency: No confirmed cases of mystery bird illness in Tennessee yet

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s state wildlife agency said that no cases of a mysterious new bird illness have been confirmed in the state yet, but it has advised residents what symptoms to look for in birds and how to help.

“Reports of dead birds have been increasing in Tennessee due to the recent news coverage of a disease affecting birds in several eastern and Midwestern states,” the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said in a statement on its website. “The disease is reportedly causing eye swelling and crusty discharge from the eyes of birds and may also be associated with neurological symptoms.”

TWRA said that Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana have seen “a significant number of reports” of the unknown illness. The species affected by it include common grackles, European starlings, blue jays, American robins and other songbirds. Young birds seem particularly vulnerable to it, the agency said.

“There are no confirmed cases of the disease in Tennessee and there have been no reports of the disease occurring in humans, poultry or livestock,” the statement said.

But Chester Leonard, assistant director of the Southwest Virginia Regional Wildlife Center of Roanoke (SVWC), previously told the Bristol Herald Courier that cases of the illness began showing up in northern Virginia several months ago. In early July, he reported that his organization had just found two dead birds in Southwest Virginia that appeared to have had the illness. But they needed official lab results to confirm its presence in the region, he said.

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Three weeks later, as of early Friday afternoon, SVWC was still waiting on that lab work, Leonard said.

TWRA’s Friday statement recommended that anyone who encounters dead birds stop feeding birds and cover bird baths for now.

The wildlife agency also recommended cleaning up any extra bird feed spilled or placed on the ground and cleaning feeders and bird baths with a 10% bleach solution. And it said to avoid handling birds if possible, wear disposable gloves when handling live ones and use an inverted trash bag over your hand to pick up dead birds. Meanwhile, people should keep their pets away from sick or dead birds, it said.

“If you find recently diseased birds exhibiting crustiness or bulging eyes and/or neurological issues, please use your discretion to contact the TWRA at (615) 781-6500,” the agency said.

But back in early July, Leonard urged residents of both Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to proactively take down their bird feeders and baths. That was the safest response until wildlife experts better understand what the disease is and how it’s transmitted, he said.

“Disease experts are diligently working to determine the cause of the disease and have not found signs of infection from known illnesses. …” TWRA said in its statement. “TWRA is working closely with regional experts to further explore the cause and to determine if the disease is affecting birds in Tennessee.”

In addition to calling, the agency said that anyone seeking more information can email David Hanni, the agency’s bird conservation coordinator, at | 276-645-2511 | Twitter: @swadely

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