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Seal deaths in Maine linked to avian flu

Out of 41 seals tested for avian flu in a recent study, nearly half tested positive.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Across the country, avian flu has affected millions of domestic and wild birds, but also some seals right here in Maine.

"Most recently, we had an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza," Marine Mammals of Maine Executive Director Lynda Doughty said.

It's a highly contagious and deadly strain of the virus. Now, a study is providing some new insight into the outbreak.

Last summer, more than 150 dead or along seals washed up along our shores. Of those seals, 41 were tested for avian flu, and almost half tested positive, according to scientists featured in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases

Doughty said they are testing seals that come through their facility for the virus. 

“These animals were dying within 12 to 24 hours of being infected with avian flu," Doughty said.

Despite these cases, state biologists said they’re not too concerned about the virus significantly impacting seals in Maine.

"It dosen’t spread as rapidly within mammals because they typically don’t interact with the same environment that waterfowl and sea birds do," Kelsey Sullivan, game bird specialist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, explained. 

In general, avian flu cases are down, Sullivan said. However, he expects cases to become more prevalent this spring. 

"It's something that’s different than we’ve seen in the smaller outbreaks in the past where the virus seems to dissipate," Sullivan added.

He also said the department plans to continue monitoring the virus.

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