A deadly waterfowl virus is afoot among the ducks and geese that congregate in a cove near Anne Arundel County's Riviera Beach, and state wildlife officials are preparing to round up and destroy dozens of birds in hopes of curbing the outbreak.
Robert Gould, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources, said the virus was discovered after a resident of the area reported finding dead ducks by the shore of Stony Creek last week.
Dead and live birds were tested at state laboratories in College Park and Salisbury and found to be infected with DVE, or duck virus enteritis, a disease related to the herpes virus.
The virus is contagious and is spread by contact, but affects only waterfowl.
"The DNR is going to have to humanely destroy the birds to make sure this highly contagious disease doesn't spread," Mr. Gould said.
It's the year's first outbreak of the virus, which usually appears in the spring, said Larry Hindman, the manager of the agency's migratory bird program. Last year, several hundred ducks had to be killed to curb outbreaks in five Maryland counties, more than 400 in Caroline and Dorchester counties alone.
The virus killed 40,000 birds in an epidemic in South Dakota in 1973, Mr. Gould. It has hit Maryland in 23 separate outbreaks since 1976.
Mr. Hindman said the agency plans to capture about 75 ducks and geese at the cove next week and feed them corn laced with poison. "We have to make the assumption they've all been exposed to the virus," Mr. Hindman said.
The effect of the poison is "like they're going to sleep," Mr. Gould said. "It's very humane. There's no pain involved."
Mr. Hindman urged residents of the area not to feed waterfowl, to avoid attracting more birds to the area.
He also asks that resident rake and dispose of waterfowl droppings, mow their lawns to allow sunlight to penetrate grass and kill the virus, and to avoid visiting zoos or wildlife refuges.
While people cannot contract the disease, they can carry it on their clothing and spread it to animals.