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NORFOLK -- Three 28-day-old cassowary chicks died from Eastern Equine Encephalitis at the Virginia Zoo in July, officials said Wednesday.

Two were found dead on the morning of July 17 and a third died later that afternoon despite intensive medical therapy. One of the parent birds has also died but test results have not been completed to determine a cause, zoo officials said.

Cassowaries are flightless birds native to the tropical forests of New Guinea, north-eastern Australia and area islands.

The chicks' father, along with a young male and a young female, are still at the zoo and have been vaccinated for the disease, officials told WVEC.com.

'All of the animals that are known to be susceptible to the disease were vaccinated at the beginning of mosquito season,' said spokeswoman Meg Puckett. 'This includes birds of prey, cranes, tapir, and all equids. The remaining three cassowary have also now been vaccinated.'

EEE is a mosquito-borne viral infection that can be fatal in both humans and animals. Because of this, the deaths were reported to the appropriate government agencies including the USDA and the Norfolk Department of Public Health.

The Norfolk Department of Public Health has reported that there have been no Eastern Equine Encephalitis positives in any of the mosquito pools or sentinel chickens in Norfolk.

There have been no published cases of cassowary deaths as a result of EEE and it is widely unknown how pathogenic the disease is to the species. While there is no bird-specific vaccine for EEE, it is common in the zoo community to vaccinate some species of birds with the equine vaccine. The Zoo's remaining cassowary have been vaccinated and future chicks will be vaccinated beginning at two weeks of age.

'While the loss is devastating not only to the Zoo staff and the worldwide cassowary gene pool, it does provide the Zoo with the opportunity to publish observations and test results that will help zoos across the country better care for cassowary,' said Greg Bockheim the Zoo's Executive Director.

Bockheim also said that medical testing of this kind is performed in zoological collections and aids the CDC in identifying and tracking disease that can potentially affect humans.

He added that is important for all of us in the community to reduce the pockets of stagnant water in our own yards to prevent the spread of mosquitoes.

Mosquito control has fogged the neighboring areas of Colonial Place, Riverview, Virginia Place and Lafayette. The Norfolk Department of Public Health Vector Control Division will begin fogging in these areas again on Wednesday morning. Additionally, Vector Control staff will increase mosquito trapping, surveillance and larval treatments.

The Virginia Department of Health recommends the following tips to reduce exposure to mosquitoes:

  • Wear long, loose and light-colored clothing.
  • If possible, limit outdoor exposure between dusk and dawn.
  • Use insect repellants with DEET according to the manufacturer's directions.
  • Turn over or remove containers in your yard where water collects, such as old tires, potted plant trays, buckets and toys.
  • Eliminate standing water on tarps or flat roofs.
  • Clean out birdbaths, wading pools and swimming pools.
  • Clean roof gutters and downspout screens

For additional information on mosquito control or to report areas of potential mosquito breeding, call the Vector Control Division at (757) 683-2840.

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