Disease Kills Ducks in Lake Forest Area

Botulism thought to be the cause of duck deaths in Orange County.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Orange County Register
    Sheila Everly feeds a duck at the Wetlands and Wildlife Sanctuary in Huntington Beach.

    Wildlife specialists are attempting to combat an unknown toxin in Lake Forest that is killing ducks.

    Katie Ingram, a spokesperson for the community outreach team at OC Animal Care, has received phone calls reporting sick and diseased ducks in the area.

    "We suspect that it’s botulism," said Ingram. "But we have not confirmed that yet."

    Botulism, a neurotoxin that causes paralysis, grows in environments low in oxygen. This scenario can happen almost every summer or end of summer, said Debbie McGuire, the wildlife director at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach.

    "It’s just the environment. For some reason, in Lake Forest, if it is botulism, something is triggering it to bloom," she said.

    Residents who find a sick bird should report it immediately. Contact OC Animal Care at 714-935-6848 to report a sick duck.

    "Humans should not ingest the carcasses or eat the affected ducks," said Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director for the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, "Anyone who handles the animals needs to make sure they wash their hands before eating, drinking, or touching their face."

    "The best way we can fight it, if it’s out there, is if we pick up the carcasses and incinerate them," said McGuire. "The ones that are sick – they need to get into care right away.

    "Whatever is happening is happening acutely, which is right away, as opposed to chronically."

    The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center is treating birds by giving them IV or oral fluids, depending on how sick they are. Some ducks need additional care.

    "Sometimes, they need to be put on medication for secondary injuries if the botulism hits them mid-flight and they drop out of air," said McGuire. "And when it hits them, they call it limber-neck disease, because the ducks can’t hold their heads up. They lose their ability to blink, and if it’s real bad, they might lose their ability to respirate."

    The cause of the deaths is still under investigation by the Orange County Vector Control District.

    "The preliminary tests came back and showed whatever killed the ducks was an acute onset of something -- and botulism comes high on that list, or another toxin," said McGuire.

    Botulinum toxins, which cause botulism, can also be found in the cosmetic drug, Botox.

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