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Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah

Mutated virus possible in deaths of bald eagles

By Dave Cawley | Posted - Jan 23rd, 2014 @ 9:02am


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DAVIS COUNTY — The West Nile virus deaths of bald eagles across northern Utah this winter has experts worried the disease might have mutated.

The mass die-off of grebes on the Great Salt Lake, along with an early freeze, had bald eagles scavenging on the carcasses of infected waterfowl.

"There are a lot of questions we're trying to figure out," said Gary Hatch, director of the Davis County Mosquito Abatement District. "Is this going to happen again? Is this a perfect storm that everything came together just right to cause this to happen?"

Hatch told the County Council this week that samples of the virus are now in the hands of experts.

"Fish and Wildlife, veterinary labs and the Centers for Disease Control. They will be working together trying to sequence these viruses," he said. "They will be sequencing the virus they got from the grebes and from the eagles and checking that with the virus that has been found in other parts of the country."

Those lab workers want to know if the West Nile strain responsible for killing the eagles differs from the typical seasonal strains. If so, it could mean a need for more aggressive mosquito control work to prevent the spread.

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