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Uptick in bird flu cases likely this fall

Officals advise S.A.F.E. action plan to keep birds healthy

OLYMPIA – With the fall migration underway across the nation, Washington state is preparing for an uptick in highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) cases. Veterinarians predict newly infected wild birds will join the already infected, resident wild waterfowl populations: increasing the risk of transmission to backyard flocks. 

With 34 flocks infected this year, state officials at the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) urge bird owners to continue their dedication to enhanced biosecurity efforts.

State Veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle says this fall flock owners should focus on keeping wild waterfowl away from domestic birds. The best way to protect flocks is to stay “S.A.F.E.”

  • Self-report –high numbers of sick or dead birds and report the health of your birds if located nearby an infected flock.
  • Avoid contact with migratory waterfowl 
  • Fence birds out of shared water sources/ ponds 
  • Eliminate outdoor feeders, especially at night 

In addition to the added safety measures, flock owners can use the domestic sick bird online reporting tool to report sick or dead domestic birds online. The online tool complements the existing WSDA sick bird reporting hotline as well as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s online reporting tool for wild birds.

Dr. Itle says bird owners should expect the need to continue taking extra biosecurity measures through the fall.

“There is clear evidence that the virus did not re-assort to a less pathogenic form. That’s what we were hoping for, but it didn’t happen,” Dr. Itle added. “So far this month there have been new detections along the northern border in our country, indicating that migrating waterfowl will continue to spread the virus through the fall.”

Be ready for fall. More birds = more virus.

“Once it starts raining and standing water returns and pond fill back up, the problem will be exasperated when the water attracts wild birds,” Dr. Itle added.  

After a detection, state and federal animal health officials monitor for HPAI symptoms in flocks within a 10 kilometers surveillance zone around the detection site. Flock owners in a surveillance zone are encouraged to self-report the health of their birds using the online surveillance self-reporting tool

State veterinarians say the biggest risk factor to date is direct contact with wild waterfowl. Since May 5, when the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) announced the first Washington case, all 34 infected flocks have had contact with wild waterfowl.

What can I do?

Veterinarians also continue to recommend avoiding bringing birds to fairs, exhibitions, poultry auctions, and on-farm sales.

WSDA resources for flock owners to learn about bird flu and protect their flocks include a bird flu webpage, an interactive map, frequently asked questions, a Facebook group, and biosecurity precautions when resuming exhibitions.

If your flock experiences sudden death or illness of multiple birds, use the new online reporting tool or call WSDA’s Sick Bird Hotline at 1-800-606-3056.

Birds that have already died should be double-bagged and kept in a cooler on ice until WSDA veterinarians can arrange for sampling. Sick or dead wild birds should not be touched or moved and can be reported using the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s online reporting tool.