Fighting infection
April 24, 2024
Dr. Dana Franzen-Klein
Two people in PPE examine a bird
A newly admitted eastern screech owl having its heartrate and rhythm checked.

Wildlife rehabilitation centers are often among the first to discover and respond to a new infectious disease in the local ecosystem. The Raptor Center’s (TRC) rehabilitation hospital has been on the front lines of several infectious disease outbreaks throughout its 50-year history, especially throughout the 2000s.

In 2002, TRC’s clinical staff immediately responded when West Nile virus (WNV) arrived in Minnesota. TRC staff conducted research on WNV vaccines to better understand how they can protect captive raptors. Utilizing existing medicine that helps prevent WNV in horses, TRC found the equine vaccine also protects raptors. This allowed staff to deliver life-saving care and share protocols with others who manage captive raptor collections.

In 2015, an avian influenza outbreak in poultry caused concern at TRC but fortunately did not transfer to wild birds. However, the same wasn’t true of the deadly highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) strain that presented in 2022. The Raptor Center’s success in its HPAI response speaks to years of front-line work that kept it from closing its doors to raptors in need of help.

TRC’s veterinarians also have developed clinical guidelines and treatment protocols for several diseases that affect raptors, from aspergillosis (fungal pneumonia) to liver disease caused by the highly infectious adenovirus. Its staff members work hard daily to learn all they can from each bird that enters care to improve practices and achieve better outcomes for the next patient and the next outbreak.

As the environment changes, wild bird populations will continue to face new infectious diseases. The Raptor Center is ready to handle the next challenge when it arrives using the information learned by the One Health approach, the understanding that human health, animal health, and ecosystem health are all deeply connected.