September 19, 2012

Maine kills rest of pheasants from virus-infected flock

By North Cairn ncairn@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The owners of 30 pheasants that died of eastern equine encephalitis in Lebanon have worked with state officials to euthanize the remaining birds in their flock of about 75.

Thirty of the birds died in a two-week period before the rest of the flock was culled, acting state veterinarian Elizabeth McEvoy said Wednesday.

Their deaths prompted the owners to seek testing by the state, which confirmed that the birds died of EEE. Town officials were notified on Sept. 7.

By the end of last week, "a couple more" had died, McEvoy said. On Friday, all of the remaining birds were euthanized.

All of the birds were less than a year old. They had been delivered to the farm in a single shipment, and none ever left the property, McEvoy said.

The owners, who have asked not to be identified, own property in an undisclosed area of Lebanon, "at the dead end of a dirt road," McEvoy said. They were raising the pheasants solely for personal use, in part to train their Brittany spaniels to flush out game birds during hunting outings.

While frost -- which can end mosquito season -- was predicted for most inland areas of Maine on Wednesday night, state health officials were still wrapping up a busy season for EEE and West Nile virus.

Two suspected cases of EEE in peacocks were under investigation Wednesday, said McEvoy, and no test results were known.

Dr. Stephen Sears, the state epidemiologist, has said that as many as 45 species of mosquitoes live in Maine, but only five or six species transmit the West Nile and EEE viruses.

No cases of either virus have been reported in humans this summer in Maine. West Nile virus has been found in mosquito-monitoring pools in Lebanon, Gorham, Standish, Saco and Biddeford, and EEE has been detected in mosquitoes in surveillance sites in Lebanon.

One positive test for West Nile, in a Philadelphia woman who was visiting Maine, was shown to have been contracted outside Maine. The woman was treated and has recovered, health officials have said.

The euthanized birds from Lebanon were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's laboratories in Colorado because federal health officials "were interested in testing the birds," said McEvoy. She has not been notified of any results from those tests.

One reason the flock was euthanized is that, on rare occasions, a bird can contract EEE, survive the disease and remain infected until spring.

Though McEvoy did not know whether a bird could transmit the virus to other birds the next year, euthanizing the remaining birds in the flock in Lebanon seemed a prudent, pre-emptive measure to the owners and state officials, McEvoy said.

Another outbreak of EEE, in 2009, left some birds alive and appearing "apparently healthy but (carrying) the virus," she said. "That is the concern" that led to the additional evaluation and euthanasia of the pheasants.

Staff Writer North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

ncairn@mainetoday.com

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