Elizabeth Bunting
August 23, 2018

Update September 21,2018

The CWHL has confirmed several cases of Avian Paramyxovirus 1 in double-crested cormorants in New York. The birds have come in from  a wide geographic area, from St. Lawrence to Erie County, along the southern shores of the St. Lawrence river, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. The first case was submitted in mid-July, and cases have continued to come in as recently as 2 weeks ago. The birds exhibited signs of lethargy, weakness, problems with balance, and were easily approached. All the birds thus far have been juveniles. Interestingly, the cormorant virus strains are not a good match with our standard diagnostic test for paramyxovirus, which is geared toward detection of poultry strains. Additional weeks of testing by our diagnostic lab virologists was essential to confirm the disease in 5 birds.

Avian paramyxoviruses circulate frequently in cormorants, and the majority of older birds develop immunity. From time to time larger multi-state outbreaks occur, and may be more likely when the population is increased. Disease outbreaks are most common between March and September.

Other cases have recently been confirmed at the National Wildlife Health Lab from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Toronto, Canada. The CWHL will continue to document cases in New York. At this time, there is no evidence that this virus strain can infect domestic poultry, but routine precautions are always recommended to prevent disease transmission from wildlife to domestic animals.

Update September 4, 2018

The National Wildlife Health Center has released a Wildlife Health Bulletin focused on the recent avian paramyxovirus mortalities in the Northeast and Great Lakes region of the United States. The bulletin also has specific information about recommended disease control and biosecurity practices.

PDF icon NWHC Wildlife Health Bulletin 2018-04.pdf

Original Posting: August 23, 2018

The Cornell Wildlife Health Lab received a message today from the National Wildlife Health Center (see below) that they have confirmed 2 cases of paramyxovirus, severe forms of which are called Newcastle Disease Virus, in cormorants from Cape Cod. This outbreak is of particular concern because this may be a severe virus strain that can cause significant mortality in poultry, and sometimes conjunctivitis in people that come in contact with the birds. The CWHL is currently testing 2 suspect cormorants that were submitted through a rehabilitator in the southern tier of New York. For more information about the disease please read our Paramyxovirus Disease fact Sheet.

We will be posting periodic updates about these cases on this disease watch page.

Please read the message from NWHC below for details and precautions to take regarding this outbreak. If you observe any sick or dead cormorants in New York, please report them to the CWHL via our mailbox at: cwhl@cornell.edu

If you are outside New York, please report them to the team at the NWHC:
Epidemiology Team
USGS National Wildlife Health Center
6006 Schroeder Rd.
Madison, Wisconsin 53711
Email: NWHC-epi@usgs.gov
Phone: (608) 270-2480
Fax: (608) 270-2415

From the NWHC

The National Wildlife Health Center has identified avian paramyxovirus-1 (APMV-1) in 2 juvenile double-crested cormorants (DCCO) with neurologic signs from Cape Cod, MA.  Virus isolation tests are pending to further characterize the strain but there is a high likelihood that it will be found to be the more virulent strain classified as  virulent Newcastle disease virus (vNDV) based on its detection in the brain tissues of these specimens.  There has been a marked increase (~30 birds representing a 3-fold increase) in the number of DCCO submissions to a Cape rehabilitation center this summer with various neurologic signs (uncoordinated, unilateral wing droop, head tossing, tremors, hind limb paresis/paralysis). Many birds were also weak, dehydrated and in poor nutritional condition.

NWHC is trying to determine the geographic extent of this outbreak and would appreciate learning if you are aware of similar cases of neurologic juvenile/YOY DCCO this summer and any lab results, if tested. 

Also, because of the potential zoonotic concerns and transmission into domestic poultry, we wanted all to be aware that this virus appears to be circulating in DCCOs this year. We are recommending euthanasia of neurologic DCCOs and incineration of carcasses without holding them in your wildlife care facility particularly if domestic poultry are present. Below is some basic information associated with APMV-1 mortality events. 

Wildlife and Domestic Animal Significance: APMV-1 can cause significant wild bird mortality, but these events are typically limited to juvenile Double-crested Cormorants. Some strains of APMV-1 classified as vNDV, including some strains isolated from cormorants, can also cause significant disease in poultry. 

Human Health Considerations: APMV-1 can cause mild self-limiting conjunctivitis in humans, therefore the use of goggles or face shields should be considered when investigating these events. As a routine precaution when handling any sick or dead birds, personal protective equipment including gloves, rubber boots, and disposable or cloth coveralls should be worn and hands should be thoroughly washed afterwards. 

Disease Control and Biosecurity: Because of the potential for some strains of vNDV to cause mortality in domestic poultry, it is important to practice good biosecurity when investigating any mortality event involving Double-crested Cormorants. Wear boots, gloves, and outer clothing that can be cleaned and disinfected, bagged and washed, or bagged and thrown away. Carcasses collected from this site should be disposed of on-site (by burying or incineration) rather than transported to other locations for disposal. Equipment, including transportation vehicles, used at a morbidity or mortality site should be washed to remove organic material and mud, then disinfected with 10% household bleach solution (9 parts water:1 part bleach) or other suitable disinfectant such as Virkon as soon as possible after use. As a precaution, limiting contact with pet birds and poultry for 5 days is advised for any personnel that have recently visited this site or handled contaminated animals or materials.