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Contagious bird flu strain confirmed in Pierce County as cases rise in western Washington

The highly contagious influenza strain is confirmed in three Washington counties and eight more cases are being investigated across the state.

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash — State health officials are asking bird owners to enhance biosecurity measures after the contagious and deadly strain of avian influenza, also known as the bird flu, was confirmed Tuesday in backyard flocks in Pierce County, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). 

The flock owners called the sick bird hotline to report an unusual number of sudden deaths in their flocks, the WSDA said in a release Wednesday. A mixture of turkeys, chickens, peacocks, ducks and waterfowl were affected in the two flocks, according to the WSDA. 

The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPA1) is now confirmed in three Washington counties. Eight additional cases are being investigated across the state, but health officials said there is no immediate public health concern.

Wildlife officials confirmed its first two cases of bird flu in western Washington May 5 after a bald eagle at Loon Lake in Stevens County and a Canada Goose in Whatcom County tested positive for the deadly strain. 

The WSDA has had nearly two dozen calls on its sick bird hotline (1-800-606-3056) since the first case was announced. 

As cases of the avian influenza rise in Washington, state veterinarians urge bird owners to step up its safety measures. 

“With so many suspicious cases in wild birds pending investigation, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to avoid exposing your flock to wild waterfowl and shorebirds,” said Dr. Amber Itle, state veterinarian. “Call us if you suspect your own birds are sick and report sick wild birds to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.”

The avian influenza can be transmitted from wild birds to domestic birds through direct contact, fecal contamination, transmission through the air, environmental contamination and shared water sources.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPAI infections have a 90-100% mortality rate in chickens, affecting multiple internal organs and causing death within 48 hours.

Itle said flock owners should prevent contact between their birds and wild birds by eliminating access to ponds or standing water on the property. Domestic species including ducks and geese are recommended to be penned separately from chickens and turkeys, she said. 

The WSDA recommended flock owners limit access to their farms, not share farm tools or equipment and not share or sell eggs from backyard flocks to reduce transmission of the virus. 

While eating cooked eggs is not a health concern, the WSDA said transferring eggs off farm could transmit the virus. 

“Avian influenza is here,” Itle said. “Whether it has been confirmed in your county yet or not, you should be taking steps to protect your birds and prevent the spread of this virus which could wipe out your flock.”