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State to test dead ducks found in Lowell for avian flu

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  • State to test dead ducks found in Lowell for avian flu

    State to test dead ducks found in Lowell for avian flu

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008;

    Aug 12, 2008 (The Sun - McClatchy-Tribune News Service via COMTEX) -- Aug. 12--LOWELL -- The death of more than two dozen ducks along the Riverwalk in downtown Lowell has drawn the attention of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, which is hoping to conduct tests on a recently deceased duck.

    Lisa Capone, spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, of which Fisheries and Wildlife is a division, said Lowell Health Director Frank Singleton had notified state authorities, who now want to test a bird to rule out avian influenza as a cause of the deaths.

    Though avian flu is typically associated with fears of a potential global health crisis, Capone stressed that the tests are routine when large numbers of birds die.

    She said a Lowell National Historical Park ranger's diagnosis that the likely cause of the deaths is avian botulism, which poses no threat to humans, appears to be correct.

    "I believe all signs seem to be pointing to avian botulism," Capone said.

    Capone said state officials have yet to get a specimen to test, but that they do intend to do so.

    She said officials would also check to make sure West Nile Virus is not involved.

    Avian botulism is a bacteria than can grow in the water and poison ducks, which then suffer paralysis and drown when they cannot move their necks to keep their heads above water, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Singleton has said recent hot weather and heavy rains have likely created a fertile environment for the bacteria by

    warming the water and washing nutrients into the river that create an oxygen-free environment in which the bacteria can thrive.

    Such outbreaks are natural and occur commonly between July and September across the country.

    David Redding, chief ranger at the National Historical Park, recognized what was happening when a witness described the death of a duck, and the symptoms matched those seen three or four years ago when about 30 ducks died from avian botulism.

    Neighbors had earlier feared adolescents may have been harming the birds.