The Northeast is experiencing an outbreak of the avian influenza, and the public is being warned not to touch or transport any bird that is sick or dead on beaches and public property.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said it is receiving a number of reports of dead or dying birds on coastal beaches believed to be the result of the virus. Avian influenza, or bird flu, is a respiratory disease caused by infection with a type of influenza virus.

Avian flu viruses normally spread among wild water birds, like ducks and geese. These viruses can be spread to domestic poultry, like chickens, ducks, geese and guinea hens. Avian flu viruses do not normally make humans sick, but human infections with avian flu viruses can happen. People who have regular contact with poultry or wild birds are most at risk, according to the state.

The public should not remove dead or dying birds, the department said in a statement on Friday. Officials are aware of the issue and will work to remove the birds as quickly as possible, according to DIF&W. Sick-acting birds should be left alone, it said. The National Wildlife Disease Program recommends not handling dead or injured wildlife. People should not transport birds that appear to be sick or injured to any rehabilitation facility as that could further spread the virus, according to the state.

The deaths of dozens of seagulls recently in Casco Bay may have been caused by the avian flu, Maine Audubon scientist Doug Hitchcox told the Press Herald on Thursday.

Photos of the birds taken by a woman in a boat near Minks Rock, east of Cliff Island, allowed Hitchcox to identify the birds as great black-back gulls, a species vulnerable to the virus. The woman who took the photos saw a seagull flopping around that was obviously sick, then saw “another one, and another one” of the sick gulls. The woman told WGME-TV that there were about 30 sick and dead gulls, that she had “never seen anything like it.”

Birds found dead on private land can be removed at the discretion of the homeowner. But the state cautions that when removing dead birds from private property, people should wear face masks and gloves and the birds should be buried or bagged and placed into the trash.

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