- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The sight may have confused folks in central Kansas over the past couple of weeks: Big migratory waterfowl, often majestic-looking snow geese, appearing drunk and swimming in circles, or flying erratically before suddenly plunging dead from the sky.

Wildlife officials blame a decades-old disease called avian cholera, which has infected two central Kansas wildlife areas and killed hundreds of waterfowl in the state’s worst outbreak since 1998.

Of roughly 1,100 dead birds found since early this month at the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and the nearby Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, the majority died of avian cholera, Cheyenne Bottoms manager Karl Grover said. Lab tests confirmed that 30 dead geese collected there Monday were infected with the bacteria, Grover said.

“We knew it was just a matter of time with us getting this cholera,” Grover told The Associated Press.

The outbreak, like others frequently reported throughout the U.S., doesn’t spell doom for waterfowl. Grover said the nearly 20,000-acre Cheyenne Bottoms has an estimated 75,000 to 150,000 geese - half of them snow geese, known for their white bodies and black wingtips - and roughly 10,000 ducks. Quivira manager Mike Oldham said that site has roughly 80,000 geese.

Since 1983, Kansas has had 10 outbreaks of what’s considered the most significant infectious disease of wild waterfowl in North America. The latest was second only to the roughly 5,000 birds that died near Jewell and Republic in north-central Kansas near the Nebraska line, according to the Wildlife Health Information Sharing Partnership, an online database.

Avian cholera, unrelated to the highly pathogenic virus called avian influenza that infected millions of poultry last summer in the upper Midwest, is a convulsion-inducing illness that comes on quickly and can kill birds midflight. It can be transmitted by bird-to-bird contact, or by secretions or feces of infected birds and by ingestion of food or water containing the bacteria, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Health experts say humans are not at a high risk of infection, though hunters and their dogs are urged to avoid contact with sick or dead birds.

Infected birds appear lethargic and, when captured, may die within minutes. Other symptoms include convulsions, swimming in circles, erratic flight and miscalculated landing attempts, mucus discharges from the mouth, and blood-stained droppings or nasal discharge.

“You can get 1,000 birds a day dying in a really big outbreak, said Bob Dusek, a field epidemiologist and wildlife biologist at the National Wildlife Health Center.

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