HELENA - Three juvenile grizzly bears tested positive for the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus this fall.
Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) say the three bears, one near Augusta, one near Dupuyer, and another near Kalispell, were observed to be in poor condition and exhibited disorientation and partial blindness, among other neurological issues.
They were euthanized due to their sickness and poor condition.
FWP reports the three bears were the first documented cases of HPAI in grizzly bears.
A fox and a skunk in Montana also tested positive for HPAI last year, and the virus has been found in raccoons, black bears and a coyote in other states and countries.
“We suspect these mammals probably get the virus from consuming infected birds,” said FWP Wildlife Veterinarian Jennifer Ramsey.
Avian influenza (AI) virus is a naturally occurring virus in birds. AI viruses are classified into two groups, based on the severity of disease they cause in infected poultry.
Low pathogenic AI viruses generally cause no clinical illness, or only minor symptoms in birds. HPAI viruses are extremely infectious and fatal to poultry and some species of wild birds.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers risk of HPAI spread to humans to be very low, Montanans should take precautions when handling game birds, sick or dead birds and mammals they find. Whenever possible, avoid contact with sick or dead wildlife.
Even if an animal is not suspected to have died from a contagious disease, gloves should always be worn if a dead animal must be handled for disposal.
FWP staff would like to know about unusual or unexplained cases of sickness and/or death of wild birds and animals by calling their local wildlife biologist or the wildlife lab in Bozeman at 406-577-7880 or 406-577-7882.