Note: Updated May 23, 2022

A highly contagious variant of avian influenza (bird flu), especially impacting wild aquatic birds, domesticated birds, and raptors, has been sweeping across the nation and cases recently have been reported in Washington.

The Washington Department of Agriculture in May, 2022, has confirmed bird flu presence in several backyard flocks and in one wild bird.

The risk of transmission to humans is very low; there has been one reported case in the U.S. and another in the UK. Both patients had significant contact with infected birds.

So far, unlike Salmonellosis, the H5N1 (bird flu) virus is not thought to be spread by bird feeders, though various health agencies recommend caution with feeders located near backyard poultry flocks. It’s always good practice to regularly clean bird feeders.

Some recommended actions by the Washington State Department of Health include:

  • Report sick/dead domestic birds to Washington State Department of Agriculture’s public phone line: 1-800-606-3056.
  • Report online sick/dead wild birds suspected of avian flu to the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife.
  • Bird hunters should follow standard safety steps to avoid potential exposure to avian influenza and other viruses or bacteria.
  • Visit the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s Avian Health Program website for information on how to best protect your flock.
  • Call the Department of Health for questions about your own health: 1-800-525-0127.

Hygiene measures, recommended by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, to prevent the spread of avian virus-related illnesses include:

  • Wear disposable gloves when cleaning harvested birds or cleaning bird feeders.
  • Do not dispose of processed carcasses in the field where they could be eaten by raptors. Bag them and place in the garbage, bury them, or incinerate them.
  • Take special precautions to ensure that all equipment (boots, clothes, vehicles, firearms) is cleaned and disinfected to prevent the spread of diseases.
  • Do not harvest or handle wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead.
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while cleaning game.
  • Wash hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes immediately after handling game or cleaning bird feeders.
  • Wash tools and work surfaces used to clean game birds with soap and water, then disinfect with a 10 percent solution of chlorine bleach.
  • Separate raw meat, and anything it touches, from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid contamination.
  • Cook game birds thoroughly. Meat should reach an internal temperature of 155 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill disease organisms and parasites.

This post will be updated if and when significant developments occur.

Resources

Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife: https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/diseases/bird-flu

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/avian-flu-summary.htm