Monday, October 31, 2011

News of Possible Botulism Outbreak in Great Lakes Region

What's killing the birds in Georgian Bay?

The beaches along scenic Georgian Bay are littered with thousands of dead birds – that Federal and provincial officials believe the cause of the death is a severe form of botulism, apparently from the birds eating dead fish.

To find out more about botulism, we spoke to Doug Campbell, a Pathologist with the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at the University of Guelph, about how the disease grows, affects birds and fish, and whether human populations have anything to worry about.

Is botulism that is killing the birds and fish in Georgian Bay?

No it’s not confirmed at this time but it’s strongly suspected.

Why is botulism suspected in this case?

For a couple of reasons I guess. The first is that this botulism is a repeated event on the lower great lakes. At this time of year, since 1998, there is almost invariably been one or more botulism mortality events occurring. So the geographical location is new but the range of the species involved and the pattern of events, the timing of it, is fairly typical with what we’ve come to expect with botulism.

The other reason is that there is probably a shortage of other candidate explanations. I’ve had the opportunity to look at a few birds from this occurrence at Wasaga Beach over the last month because it has been sort of building a long period of time and so far we’ve not discovered any evidence of any other disease in these birds. With something like this we do try and make sure that we’re not missing something else rather than just assume it is botulism but the probability is that it will turn out to be Type E botulism.

So Georgian Bay is a new location? What could contribute to the botulism moving there?

We first saw type E botulism here in Canada in 1998. The disease had previously occurred on the American side of the great lakes as far back, that we know of at least, in the early 1960s. Why the disease comes and goes isn’t really known because it was quite an important disease on Lake Michigan and the American side of Lake Huron and even up into superior into the 1960s and then completely disappeared for twenty years. And then it reappeared in Lake Michigan in the 1980s and again after that, it disappeared.

As I said, we first saw it in south-eastern Lake Huron, down near the provincial park in 1998. Following that it moved eastward, south and eastward into Lake Erie and then eastward into Lake Ontario until it was seen down in the very eastern end of Lake Ontario. On Lake Huron, we really hadn’t seen much north of Kincardine until just a couple of years ago and over the last couple of years, we’ve seen some cases up and over the tip of the Bruce peninsula. So this occurrence in Wasaga beach area, I guess you could say is a natural, a logical eastward extension of where we have seen it before.

Global Toronto
Photo courtesy of Global Toronto
24 Oct 2011
James Armstrong

Location: Wasaga Beach, Ontario, Canada


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