An avian flu virus quickly spreading across the US has been detected in a Washington noncommercial backyard flock in Pacific County, the state’s Department of Agriculture said Friday.
So far more than 37 million chickens and turkeys have died and more deaths are expected in the coming months as the virus is rapidly becoming the country’s worst outbreak.
State and federal labs tested samples collected from the Pacific County flock for avian influenza on Thursday, after the owners reported sick birds and an increased mortality rate, according to a news release from the state agency.
It is the first detection of the virus so far in 2022, according to WSDA, which said the flock has been quarantined and will be euthanized to prevent further spread.
However, a few preliminary positive bird flu cases still await confirmation, according to Dr. Kristin Mansfield with 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 within 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 vigorous response plan, but this development demonstrates how important good biosecurity can be, especially for backyard bird owners,” Dr. Amber Itle, state veterinarian, said in a statement.
WSDA is working with the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service and held a joint news 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 noncommercial backyard flock of waterfowl died suddenly of the avian 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 latest outbreak hit North America, WSDA Dr. Dana R. Dobbs said during the news conference. It has also nearly wiped out 2 million fowl in Canada as cases are reported out of multiple provinces.
The outbreak is spread largely by migrating 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 has been a bit “odd” due to the recent weather.
“I would’ve hoped it would’ve been gone by now and we were literally holding our breaths that it would pass the Pacific Flyway, but now unfortunately we are involved,” she said.
As of May 6, USDA has identified more than 1,000 cases of bird flu among wild birds across 25 states.
Backyard flock owners should bring birds undercover or cover their cubes if possible, clean up any food spills, limit visitors to the farm – especially other poultry owners – and purchase feed only from national poultry improvement sources that undergo stringent inspections, Dobbs said.
The risk of bird flu spreading to humans, however, 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 guidance requires farms to euthanize entire commercial flocks if one bird tests positive for avian influenza. Millions of animals in Iowa barns have been suffocated in high temperatures or with poisonous foam, Bloomberg reported.
Bird flu last hit the US in 2015 and killed about 50 million animals. This cost the federal government, since it handles killing and burying birds over $1 billion, according to a Bloomberg report.
WSDA is advising commercial poultry farmers and backyard flock owners to monitor for possible cases of bird flu and report domestic bird deaths or illness 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: st.news/birdflu.