U.S. Customs agents said they seized a package of dead birds in a passenger’s baggage at the Washington Dulles airport, adding that the person recently traveled from China to the United States.
The person came from Beijing in late January and was heading to an address in Prince George’s County, Maryland, according to Customs and Border Protection (CPB) in a news release on Monday. That was before U.S. officials in early February implemented travel restrictions on passengers coming in from China to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The agents conducted an examination of the baggage, which had “pictures of a cat and dog that the passenger said was cat food,” according to the news release.
But instead, customs officials discovered the baggage actually “contained a bunch of unknown small birds, about 2.5 to 3.5 inches in length,” the agency said. Customs agents noted that birds from China cannot be imported into the United States due to the potential threat they might be carrying a form of avian influenza, which has ravaged Chinese poultry farms in recent years.
A photo posted on the Customs and Border Protection website showed that the person was carrying about 50 dead birds.
“These dead birds are prohibited from importation to the United States as unprocessed birds pose a potentially significant disease threat to our nation’s poultry industries and more alarmingly to our citizens as potential vectors of avian influenza,” said Casey Durst, with the CPB’s Baltimore Field Office, in the news release. “Customs and Border Protection agriculture specialists continue to exercise extraordinary vigilance every day in their fight to protect our nation’s agricultural and economic prosperity from invasive pests and animal diseases.”
On Monday, Chinse authorities reported the first case of H5N6 bird flu on a poultry farm in Sichuan Province, which killed hundreds of birds. Days before that, the same type of bird flu was discovered in swans in Xinjiang, officials said.
Earlier this month, China’s Hunan Province confirmed an outbreak of H5N1 bird flu, which also left thousands of birds dead or culled, on another farm. The country’s ministry of agriculture said on Feb. 2 that 18,000 chickens were culled in Shaoyang, Hunan province.
The Department Homeland Security in early February said it will enforce “restrictions for all passenger flights to the United States carrying individuals who have recently traveled from” China amid the threat of coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province. The new rules will restrict American citizens who have gone to China within the past 14 days of their arrival, the agency said at the time.