The birds were found inside a package that had a dog and cat on it. The passenger said they were cat food
dead birds
Credit: Customs and Border Protection

Officials recently made a disturbing discovery at a Virginia airport when they opened a traveler’s luggage to inspect it, only to find a package of dead birds inside.

The shocking find was made by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agriculture specialists at Washington Dulles International Airport on January 27, according to a press release from the agency.

Authorities said the passenger had arrived in the U.S. from Beijing, China, and was headed to Prince George‘s County, Maryland.

When they went to examine his bag, CBP agriculture specialists found a purple package inside with pictures of a dog and cat on it, which was captured in an image on CBP Mid-Atlantic’s Twitter account.

dead birds
The package of dead birds
| Credit: Customs and Border Protection

The passenger claimed to officials that the contents inside were cat food, but upon further inspection, they realized that it was dozens of dead, small birds, ranging from 2.5 to 3.5 inches in length, the release stated.

Authorities explained that the birds, which were unknown in species, were forbidden for import because they could potentially carry a “highly pathogenic avian influenza” that poses a major health threat in the U.S.

“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,” Casey Durst, Director of Field Operations for CBP’s Baltimore Field Office, said in the release.

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The U.S. CPB said officials then confiscated the package from the traveler “on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and destroyed by incineration, with USDA approval.”

“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,” Durst added.

Though Avian flu viruses don’t normally infect humans, there have been sporadic cases where this has occurred, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Those infected may show signs of conjunctivitis, flu-like symptoms, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, severe respiratory problems, and neurologic changes, and will typically require anti-viral drugs to fight it off. The CDC says the best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposing oneself to the source.

At this time, it is unclear how the man managed to have the dead birds in his possession or if he actually planned on using them as pet food.

A spokesperson with the U.S. CBP confirmed to PEOPLE there will be no criminal charges brought against the passenger. While the CBP does issue civil penalties, they won’t do so in this case because the passenger did declare he was traveling with pet food.