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Farmers, the Point Defiance Zoo take steps to protect flocks from bird flu outbreak

The highly contagious H5N1 virus was found in two non-commercial backyard flocks in Pierce County.

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — David Thompson has been raising chickens in Tacoma for 12 years.

Since then, he joined the Food is Free Project with the goal of feeding his community.

But he’s had to cut back on what he can give out because another deadly virus has been found in Pierce County: the H5N1 avian flu.

When Thompson heard the news, he immediately took steps to keep his neighbors safe.

“Right away we stopped giving out eggs,” he said. “Until this bird flu is under control, you’re not supposed to give away eggs.”

The virus is spread primarily through wild migratory birds and their feces, which puts Thompson’s chicken coop in a much more vulnerable position.

“Mine is straight open air, so we could get migratory birds to come in and bring that avian flu into here,” he said.

Farmers aren’t the only ones concerned about the spread of this virus.

The virus was first detected in Pierce County on May 10, and since then, Point Defiance Zoo says they’ve also taken extra precautions, moving the most highly susceptible birds to off-exhibit covered areas.

“We have a lot of endangered or susceptible species,” said Dr. Karen Wolf, who serves as Head Veterinarian for the Zoo. “We have chickens, penguins, and puffins and all of them could be very adversely affected by the flu. So we needed to make sure that they were protected and be ahead of the game.”

Both Thompson and Wolf said early prevention is essential, given the consequences a flock could face if the virus is found in even one bird.

“The whole flock would have to be culled…they’d all have to die,” Thompson said. “We’re doing our best to keep it out of here. But as a responsible backyard flock owner, if you get it in your flock, you have to cull the whole flock.”

The state’s Department of Agriculture is now advising all bird owners to avoid attending shows, exhibitions and fairs until the waterfowl complete their migration north, after that, they anticipate these activities can return to normal by the end of June.


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