Snow Geese/Glenn Nelson

Thirty positive detections of the highly contagious avian flu have been confirmed in wild birds in Washington State as of June 1, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) veterinarians and biologists said during a live-streamed presentation hosted by Seattle Audubon on Thursday, June 2.

The public is urged to suspend feeding waterfowl and to not handle any birds suspected of being infected. The primary signs of avian flu infection are neurological, including struggling to stand or heavy lack of coordination, as well as some nasal or oral discharge. Birds, dead or alive, suspected of infection should not be handled, but should be reported to the WDFW by the following link:

https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/a384e90f69744f2e846135a9ce80027f

The H5N1 (avian flu) virus almost exclusively has impacted wild aquatic birds, domestic birds, and raptors. Unlike Salmonellosis, the virus is not thought to be spread by bird feeders because songbirds have so far been unaffected. Various health agencies recommend caution with feeders located near backyard poultry flocks.

It’s always good practice to regularly clean bird feeders with water solution containing 10 percent bleach that is not older than three months.

Though removing bird feeders is not mandatory or even recommended, WDFW’s Chris Anderson said spring is a good time to suspend feeding as a precaution. “There’s plenty of food out there,” Anderson said. “It won’t hurt the birds.”

All confirmed cases of infected domestic birds in Washington state are the result of contact with wild waterfowl, according to Amber Betts of the Washington Department of Agriculture. Those raising domestic birds should practice biosecurity, Betts said, including placing birds inside or under cover, tarped to prevent exposure to fecal matter, and isolated from waterfowl and even songbirds, which can be carriers.

Mostly, Betts said, “keep your domestic flocks completely separated from any outsiders, even other humans.”

The risk of transmission to humans is very low; there has been one reported case in the U.S. and another in the U.K, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Both patients had significant contact with infected birds.

The H5N1 virus can be transmitted to mammals, particularly scavengers such as skunk or red fox kits. No cases in mammals have been reported in Washington, according to Dr. Katie Haman of WDFW.

Washington’s confirmed cases of avian flu in wild birds have not yet revealed any patterns, Haman said. Canada Geese and Mallard Ducks, mainly goslings and duckling, account for most of the cases. In chronological order, the cases confirmed by WDFW are:

Snow Goose – Grant Co (04/19/2022)

Bald Eagle – Stevens Co (04/28/2022)

Sandhill Crane – Franklin Co (05/02/2022)

Canada Goose – Whatcom Co (05/04/2022

Snow Geese (1 out of 3) – Grant Co (05/04/2022)

Bald Eagle – Pierce Co (05/03/2022

Red-tailed hawk – Walla Walla Co (05/03/2022)

Peregrine Falcon – Snohomish Co (05/10/2022)

Red-tailed hawk – Skagit Co (05/11/2022)

Bald Eagle – San Juan Co (05/10/2022)

Great Horned Owl – Asotin Co (05/12/2022)

Canada Goose – Asotin Co (05/12/2022)

Canada Goose – King Co (05/11/2022)

Bald Eagle – Island Co (05/11/2022)

Canada Goose – King Co (05/13/2022)

Canada Goose – Snohomish Co (05/13/2022)

Mallard – Snohomish Co (05/13/2022)

Bald Eagle – Spokane Co (05/18/2022)

Raven – Spokane Co (05/18/2022)

American Crow – Benton Co (05/18/2022)

Canada Goose (×2) – Benton Co (05/18/2022)

Canada Goose – King Co (05/19/2022)

Mallard – Benton Co (05/18/2022)

Canada Goose – King Co (05/22/2022)

Mallards (×2) – King Co (05/22/2022)

Mallard – King Co (05/22/2022)

Mallard – King Co (05/22/2022)

Mallard – King Co (05/22/2022)

Canada Goose – King Co (05/23/2022

Canada Goose (×2) – King Co (05/23/2022)

Bellevue, Kent, and Seattle account for most of the King County detections, according to Anderson. In Seattle, active centers for reported illnesses include Green Lake, because of the concentration of people, and Volunteer Park, because of confined pond spaces, which “are very perfect situations to have anything spread,” Anderson said.

Wildlife and health officials are waiting to see how the end of spring migration and start of migration in the fall impact the numbers and persistence of the virus in the area. Europe has been dealing with the virus for about 18 months, according to Betts. “Such a cool, wet spring has provided good conditions for the virus to stick around a bit longer,” she added of the local situation. “We’re hoping the heat to give us some reprieve and kind of get things back in order.”

 

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