Beyond raptors TRC works with bird owners, health officials to preserve ecosystem health during HPAI outbreak
October 19, 2022
Victoria Hall
Venn diagram showing showing "one health" as the result of "animal health," "human health," and "environmental health" overlapping

In a world of ever-growing human populations and decreasing wild spaces, humans, domestic animals, and wildlife are living closer to each other than ever before.

It is estimated that 60 percent of known infectious diseases and 75 percent of new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted between humans and animals. The health of humans is dependent on that of the animals around us and the environment we all share.

The global outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) illustrates the risks. At The Raptor Center (TRC), staff is always working at the human/animal/environmental health interface, using raptors as an indicator for the health of the ecosystem. HPAI is a fatally devastating disease to both poultry and raptors, resulting in global trade restrictions and implications for the agricultural sector, and can, in rare instances, be transmitted to humans.

At the start of this outbreak, TRC quickly enacted protocols to help protect not only its raptors but also the surrounding ecosystem. Alongside various partners, staff members worked to contact trace any positive-testing raptor that entered the hospital. This allowed staff to expedite testing of raptors found near poultry facilities and in the backyards of people who keep poultry, and alert bird owners if their animals may have been exposed to the virus. TRC also shared its disease transmission observations with bird owners across the region, better equipping them to assess the environmental risk and enact mitigation procedures.

On the human side, TRC worked to protect the public and its amazing responders who rescue and care for sick birds. After learning that concerned citizens had been highly exposed to infected birds without personal protection equipment (PPE), TRC partnered with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to follow up with these individuals and inform them of symptoms to watch for and whom to call if they did become ill.

Additionally, as the clinic staff of TRC was highly exposed to positive birds every day (while wearing extensive PPE), TRC partnered with MDH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to better understand transmission risk to wildlife workers and how to best protect clinic staff members as they continue the crucial work of caring for raptors.

Diseases will continue to emerge and reemerge at this human/animal/environment interface, and the experts at TRC will be there to help raptors in need and collect crucial data to better care for all.