WOODSTOCK, Ga. — A flu infecting birds nationwide is being blamed for the deaths of three bald eagles in Georgia.
The University of Georgia's Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Diseases Study said it confirmed the avian flu in the eagles Thursday.
It marks the first time the virus has been confirmed in the species in Georgia, officials said. Researchers first detected the disease in the dead eagles found in Chatham, Glynn and Liberty counties in March. Lab tests at the United States Department of Agriculture National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, confirmed the results.
The deaths of the bald eagles in Georgia are the latest reported across the nation. Last month, two bald eagles in Vermont were found to be infected with avian influenza, state wildlife officials announced. North Carolina also reported the death of a bald eagle in that state in March.
Nationwide, federal officials have confirmed more than 660 cases of the avian flu in wild birds this year, including 11 cases in Georgia. Tens of millions of domestic birds have also died from the disease or were euthanized to keep the virus from ravaging commercial flocks.
Zoos across the nation are also taking steps to protect their birds, moving some indoors and away from people and wildlife.
"We don't know what the future holds, but worst case scenario: The virus becomes established in our wild bird populations," said David Stallknecht, director of the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study.
"If it is maintained in wild birds, it will continue to threaten wild bird and commercial poultry health," he said. "With bird migration it may even spread to Central America and South America."
The virus is considered to be a low risk to humans, and there have been no human cases reported in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.