Bird flu confirmed in Washington’s backyard

A bird flu virus rapidly spreading across the US has been detected in a non-commercial backyard in Washington’s Pacific County, the state’s Department of Agriculture said Friday.

More than 37 million chickens and turkeys have died so far and more deaths are expected in the coming months as the virus quickly becomes the country’s worst outbreak.

State and federal labs tested samples collected from the Pacific County flock for bird flu on Thursday after owners reported sick birds and an increased death rate, according to a state agency press release.

It is the first detection of the virus so far in 2022, according to the WSDA, which said the herd has been quarantined and will be euthanized to prevent further spread.

However, a few preliminary positive bird flu cases are still awaiting confirmation, according to Dr. Kristin Mansfield of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Those birds include a sandhill crane in Connell, Washington, a Canada goose in Whatcom County and a snow goose in Moses Lake, she said.

No cases of bird flu have been identified in Washington’s commercial poultry industry and there are currently no immediate public health concerns, WSDA said Friday. Bird flu does not affect poultry meat or eggs.

“We have a strong response plan, but this development shows how important good biosecurity can be, especially for backyard bird owners,” said Dr. Amber Itle, state veterinarian, in a statement.

WSDA is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and held a joint press conference Friday with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, along with health and wildlife officials from both states.

Oregon officials also confirmed Friday that several geese in a non-commercial backyard waterfowl flock died suddenly of bird flu on a farm in Linn County, Oregon — the state’s first case since 2015, the Associated Press reported.

About 34 states have reported cases or outbreaks since the last outbreak hit North America, said WSDA Dr. Dana R. Dobbs during the press conference. It has also wiped out nearly 2 million birds in Canada as cases have been reported from multiple provinces.

The outbreak is largely spread by migratory birds and can be spread through direct contact, aerosols, fecal contamination or contaminated water and feed, Dobbs said, also noting that the wild bird migration pattern was a bit “strange” because of the recent weather.

“I was hoping it would be gone by now and we were literally holding our breath for it to pass the Pacific Flyway, but now we’re sadly involved,” she said.

As of May 6, USDA has identified more than 1,000 cases of bird flu in wild birds in 25 states.

Backyard flock owners should take birds undercover or cover their cubes if possible, clean up food waste, limit visitors to the farm — especially other poultry farmers — and buy feed only from national poultry improvement sources that undergo strict inspections, Dobbs said.

However, the risk of bird flu spreading to humans is low, even with a confirmed case of a person involved in culling infected birds in Colorado, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Federal government guidelines require farms to euthanize entire commercial flocks if one bird tests positive for avian influenza. Millions of animals in stables in Iowa have been asphyxiated by high temperatures or toxic foam, Bloomberg reported.

Bird flu last hit the US in 2015, killing about 50 million animals. This cost the federal government, as it handles bird killing and burying, more than $1 billion, according to a Bloomberg report.

WSDA advises commercial poultry farmers and backyard flock owners to monitor for possible cases of bird flu and to report domestic bird death or disease to the state’s Avian Health Program at 1-800-606-3056.

For more information and resources, visit USDA’s Defend the Flock program website:

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