The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) will hold a town hall meeting this Thursday to discuss avian influenza and steps poultry owners should be taking to protect their birds following confirmation of the disease among wild fowl in our state.

Image/ National Atlas of the United States
Image/ National Atlas of the United States

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza in wild birds in Whatcom County. Two separate virus strains were identified in northern pintail ducks and in captive Gyrfalcons that were fed hunter-killed wild birds.

Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease that can be deadly to poultry, but there have been no reports of the disease in Washington’s domestic poultry population.

The virus found in the wild fowl in Whatcom County is different from the avian influenza virus found recently among infected turkeys and chickens on farms in British Columbia, Canada. It is too soon to say whether the two detections are related. That information will require more testing.

Humans are rarely affected by avian influenza and there has never been a reported instance of a person becoming ill from an infected bird in the United States, although some cases have occurred in foreign countries where people have come in close contact with infected birds.

“There are many strains of avian influenza and it is not uncommon for wild water fowl to carry the virus,” said Dr. Joe Baker, Washington state veterinarian. “This is why it is critical for poultry owners to take steps to protect their birds from wild fowl.”

The WSDA town hall meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Lynden Rotary Club and is open to the public. WSDA would like to particularly invite poultry producers or owners of backyard flocks to attend.

The finding in Whatcom County was quickly reported and identified due to increased surveillance for avian influenza in light of the avian influenza affecting commercial poultry in British Columbia.

Swab samples from the captive gyrfalcon were sent to the Washington State University Avian Health & Food Safety Laboratory in Puyallup and confirmed positive over the weekend through the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa.

The virus can be spread by direct contact with infected birds, contaminated equipment, and through airborne transmission over short distances. The virus is found in feces, saliva, and respiratory secretions of birds carrying the disease.

Washington state officials and the USDA are working jointly to do additional surveillance and testing of birds in the nearby Whatcom County area.

Birds affected by avian influenza can show a variety of symptoms, including:

  • decreased appetite
  • coughing and sneezing
  • lowered egg production
  • greenish diarrhea
  • excessive thirst
  • swollen wattles and combs