Washington officials ‘concerned’ about possible spread of bird flu in the state

TRI-CITIES, Wash. — While the coronavirus pandemic seems to be ending, officials in Washington are concerned about another virus — one that impacts our feathered friends.

It’s called “highly pathogenic avian influenza” otherwise known as bird flu.

In wild waterfowl, scientists can observe neurological symptoms and odd, irregular behavior. But according to Dr. Amber Itle, a Washington State Department of Agriculture’s (WSDA) veterinarian, signs in domesticated birds like chickens or turkeys are more respiratory.

“We might see discolored combs, difficulty breathing, nasal discharge, ocular discharge, and swelling,” Dr. Itle said during a recent news briefing.

Currently, officials have confirmed one flock in Pacific County, an eagle in Stevens County, and a second backyard flock in Spokane County are infected but others across the state are being monitored and investigated.

However, the immediate concerns gravitate toward domestic fowl.

If they test positive for bird flu, officials say “there’s no treatment” and most flocks are euthanized.

“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do with wild birds… So it just kind of has to run its course,” said Staci Lehman with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Lehman noted that “wildlife diseases always exist” but if domestic birds fall victim to an outbreak it could impact population numbers.

“There’s the potential to cross between domestic to wild animals, and vice versa, which then impacts everybody because it becomes harder to get chicken and more expensive and things like that,” Lehman said.

Becky Donley, the caretaker for Pioneer Park Aviary in Walla Walla, said she’s nervous about the potential spread of bird flu.

“In the wild populations in the park, you could easily get into our aviary here,” Donley said. “Some of those birds in there… they’re like pets. They follow me around, and they have names and so yeah, I’m very worried about them.”

State officials said the best thing to do to protect domestic birds is by keeping them inside and away from possible exposure.

“We really want to encourage flock owners out there to keep their birds away from ponds, away from shared water sources,” Dr. Itle said. “Preferably bring them in or bring them under covers.”

To best protect yourself, Lehman added to just “use common sense” as humans contracting the virus isn’t a “huge concern at this point.”

“It is possible but it’s rare. It’s when people have extended to exposure when they can get it,” Lehman said. “We are recommending that people who hunt be really careful with wearing disposable gloves when they’re cleaning their birds, cleaning off the tools that they use with a solution of peroxide or bleach.”

When it comes to bird feeders, Lehman said to clean them “really good” between refilling and to wash your hands thoroughly after.

To watch the WSDA news briefing in full, click here.

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