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A biologist in Newfoundland and Labrador says the discovery of the highly pathogenic avian flu in St. John’s birds is “very concerning” for bird populations, but likely not for humans.

Memorial University professor Andrew Lang said in an interview Friday the flu could be devastating for North America’s wild bird populations if it manages to spread beyond the island of Newfoundland.

The City of St. John’s said in a news release Friday the flu had been found in local wild birds and that officials asked residents not to feed, handle or touch any birds, including gulls, ducks and pigeons.

Environment Canada wildlife scientist Alan Hanson said in an interview Friday the flu was found in a great black-backed gull that was found at a St. John’s pond on Nov. 26.

The news comes just days after an outbreak of H5N1 avian flu was reported at an “exhibition farm” on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, which killed 360 of the facility’s 419 birds.

Lang says there is “little or no evidence” the strain poses a risk for humans, noting it has shown up in several other parts of the world, such as Israel, where an outbreak recently killed more than 5,000 migratory cranes.

Lang said the current strain is particularly well adapted to spread among wild birds, as it kills many but leaves some alive. Those infected birds can then go on to spread the virus.

He said it’s hard to predict what will happen in Newfoundland.

“Best case scenario? Maybe it never leaves the island,” he said. “Maybe it’ll just vanish; maybe we’ll be lucky.”

As for the infected gull, Hanson said it was collected at Mundy Pond, in the western part of the capital, and that it was brought to wildlife officials because it was behaving strangely. The bird died about 24 hours after it was brought in, he said.

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