BOSTON (SHNS) – State health and environmental officials are advising members of the public “to refrain from touching or removing birds from coastal areas that appear sick, injured, or deceased” and asking them to report observations of sick or dying birds along the coastline.

The advisory comes as Massachusetts has experienced what state ornithologist Andrew Vitz described as “substantial uptick in reports of dead and dying seabirds, including eiders, cormorants, and gulls” over the past week. State agencies including the Department of Fish and Game reported Wednesday that Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza is suspected to have caused the bird deaths along the coasts.

The department said HPAI has been detected in domestic and wild birds from Canada to Florida for the past several months. “Avian Influenza rarely infects humans,” state epidemiologist Dr. Catherine Brown said. “Although the risk is low, direct contact with infected birds or heavily contaminated environments can sometimes spread the disease to people. People are urged not to handle or feed any birds suspected of being infected.”

The public is asked to report observations of any sick, injured or dead seabirds — including ducks, seagulls, terns and cormorants — via an online form. For domestic birds and poultry, reports can be made to the division of animal health at the Department of Agricultural Resources at 617-626-1795.