BILLINGS - Three turkeys found dead near the MSU Billings campus on April 11 have tested positive for avian flu, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) officials reported Thursday.
They are the first turkeys in the United States reported to have died from the viral disease, which has appeared in 29 states nationwide, according to FWP and the USDA.
The three turkeys were among seven dead turkeys found by a neighbor, who threw one away thinking it had been hit by a car before he found others and called FWP.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza primarily affects birds and presents a low risk to humans, according to the CDC.
People with job-related or recreational exposure to birds may have a higher risk.
Historically cases in humans are far and few in between, although one person in China did test positive for the virus this week.
The virus has killed thousands of birds across the U.S. since it was first detected in Canada in November, but these are the first feral turkeys in the U.S. to test positive.
Bob Gibson, a Billings-based spokesman for FWP, is warning residents to be cautious and protect themselves and livestock from infection.
"This is so pathogenic or spread easily that by touching a bird and throwing it away and later touching chickens it could easily spread," he said.
Gibson also recommended residents pull their bird feeders to prevent spread of the virus.