ALASKAN FLAVOR – Young dancers Eloise Branch, Ella Haley Colliver, Maddox Dozier, Molly Hames, Maddy McDevitt, Aurora Phillips and Annie White emerge from the skirt of Mother Ginger, played by Jill Kisaka, during a rehearsal for “The Nutcracker” Wednesday. The Alaska-themed ballet opens 7 p.m. tonight at the Performing Arts Center. Tickets are on sale at and at the door. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

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Daily Sitka Sentinel

Avian Flu Cases Turning Up Again in Area


Sentinel Staff Writer

Following an outbreak that claimed the lives of a number of wild birds around the state in the spring, cases of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza declined in the Sitka area over the summer, but the virus reappeared in town this month, experts at the Alaska Raptor Center say.

The virus is incurable and kills almost all raptors it infects. The local re-emergence of HPAI was not unexpected, Raptor Center Executive Director Jennifer Cross said.

“We suspected all along that it would be coming back with fall migrations, because that’s how it popped up in the spring – around the time birds are migrating… We’re hopeful that it will top out but we’re very realistic about the fact that we’re going to be living with this for a while,” Cross told the Sentinel on Monday.

The virus does not pose a significant threat to humans, which CDC considers to be low. “Right now, the H5N1 bird flu situation remains primarily an animal health issue,” the agency said on its website. Only one American has been confirmed to have contracted the virus. They presented mild symptoms and recovered in April, the CDC reported.

After its first appearance in Sitka in early May, HPAI infections subsided by June, Cross noted, as hot, dry weather provided an inhospitable environment to the virus. But the recent onset of cool, damp conditions has likely aided the reemergence of the virus.

So far, four ravens and one gull have tested positive for the virus, Cross reported. The U.S. Geological Survey website maps positive cases across Alaska.

The virus has spread across most of northern North America and has struck industrial poultry facilities in the Midwest and Canada, too. The virus can also infect mammals. HPAI was detected in a black bear cub near Gustavus last week, KINY radio reported. The cub was euthanized by the Department of Fish and Game after it suffered seizures.

To protect the birds at the Raptor Center facility on Sawmill Creek Road, Cross said “there will be no new admits accepted at the center until further notice. We have once again made arrangements with Pet’s Choice Veterinary Hospital to admit sick and injured birds on our behalf.”

The center remains open for public visitation Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

HPAI returned to the Raptor Center’s attention in early November with reports that ravens around Marine Street were showing the neurological symptoms of the virus.

“I started to get a bunch of calls about ravens, kind of all in the same area of Sitka, which was suspicious to me,” Raptor Center Avian Director Jennifer Cedarleaf said.

All but one tested positive.

Out of an abundance of caution, birds taken in with neurological symptoms will be euthanized, Cross said. There’s no cure or treatment for the infection, and over 99 percent of infected raptors die. Test results for HPAI take days to produce results and rapid testing isn’t available in Sitka.

For Sitkans who tend flocks of domestic birds, Cedarleaf urged precautions.

“Just be very careful around your chickens,” she said. “If you have to go in their coop, wear shoes that you only wear inside their coop, don’t walk around in other areas with those shoes on because you can easily get the virus on your shoes and take it into their chicken coop. And it seems that chickens and turkeys are… highly susceptible to this strain.”

The hunting season for migratory waterfowl in Southeast opened September 16 and runs through the end of December. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urges hunters not to harvest game that appears ill, to wear gloves while handling birds, to clean all equipment used, and to cook game meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

More information for hunters is available at

Cross said Sitka likely will have more avian flu cases.

“We expect there will be more cases in the coming weeks,” she said. “We picked up a sick eagle (Sunday) as well and are confident it will test positive.”

Sitkans who see a sick or dead bird can call the Alaska Raptor Center’s emergency line at 907-738-8662. To report illness or death in wild and domestic birds outside of Sitka, contact the Office of the State Veterinarian, Dr. Robert Gerlach, at 907-375-8215. The Fish and Wildlife Service also maintains a Sick and Dead Bird Hotline at 1-866-527-3358.

Looking to the future, Cross hopes cases die down as winter takes hold.

“It may be that, come December, we stop seeing cases again. And then it’s quiet for January, February, and then we’ll see them again in March,” she said. “That might happen. We’re hopeful that cases will die down the way they did over the summer.”

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At a Glance

(updated 9-12-2023)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 8:57 a.m. Tuesday, September 12.

New cases as of Tuesday: 278

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 301,513

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,485

Case Rate per 100,000 – 38.14

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 152.50

Cases in last 7 days – 13

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,575

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






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