First outbreak of avian influenza reported in a commercial flock in Washington

Annette Cary / Tri-City Herald

A Franklin County company has reported Washington state’s first outbreak of bird flu in a large commercial chicken flock since a statewide outbreak began in February.

Chickens are being humanely killed to contain the outbreak, affecting thousands of birds in the commercial flock, according to the Benton Franklin Health District.

Earlier this year, the Washington state Department of Agriculture reported infections in 36 small- or medium-sized backyard flocks of chickens, ducks and geese, but none in large commercial flocks so far.

Avian influenza, or bird flu, was detected in wild birds and baby raccoons in the Tri-Cities region this year, but not in local flocks before state and Tri-Cities region officials announced the commercial flock outbreak on Wednesday.

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that wild birds gather to feed in cold weather, and the agency is receiving reports of other suspected wild bird cases in the state. Wild birds can transmit the disease to domestic flocks.

The Franklin County commercial operation last week reported to the state Department of Agriculture a high number of sudden deaths among its chickens in a single barn on one of its farms.

Other birds were lethargic and showing other signs of illness, prompting investigation by state and federal veterinarians.

Lab tests at the Washington Animal Disease and Diagnostic Laboratory appeared positive. Further tests at the National Veterinary Services laboratories are expected this week to confirm highly pathogenic avian influenza.

The affected Franklin County premises have been quarantined to prevent the spread of the disease. All birds on the site have been killed in a bid to contain the outbreak, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

According to state officials, no food from the herd will enter the food supply system.

Cooking eggs and poultry kills the virus that causes bird flu, Heather Hill of the Benton Franklin Health District said on the Kadlec on Call podcast Wednesday.

The Benton Franklin Health District is contacting all commercial operations personnel who have handled the birds. They will be monitored for symptoms and tests will be done and medication provided if needed, Hill said.

There have been no recorded cases of bird flu in humans in Washington state, said Hannah Schnitzler, a communicable disease epidemiologist with the Washington State Department of Health and Human Services.

“Human cases of bird flu are very rare. When they do occur, it is through direct touching and handling of infected birds,” said Dr. Larry Jecha, Benton and Franklin County Health Officer.

Due to the high number of other respiratory infections in the Tri-Cities area, the health district is taking care to help potentially exposed employees stay healthy, it said.

State and federal animal health officials are monitoring herds within about six miles of the infected site.

Commercial operations in this area must closely monitor and regularly test herd health. You must apply for government permits to bring safe products into or out of the area.

Though this is the first major commercial herd outbreak in Washington this year, there have been more than 250 outbreaks in about two dozen states across the country this year.

Anyone who keeps poultry in the Tri-Cities area should watch for signs of bird flu, the Benton Franklin Health District said.

Avian influenza occurs in wild birds worldwide and is spread through contact with saliva, nasal discharge, feces or surfaces contaminated with the virus.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture recommends confining domestic flocks in the backyard to an area with a roof that will not let water through.

“There is clear evidence that viral loads are high in wild birds and the environment,” said Dana Dobbs, director of the state’s bird health program, on Wednesday. “The recent major die-off of geese across the state puts our native flocks at risk for the foreseeable future.”

Earlier this month, biologists from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife responded to reports of sick or dead waterfowl in western Skagit County in and around Skagit Bay, as well as northwestern Snohomish County and Camano Island and Port Susan in Island County.

Agency staff have recovered more than 700 dead birds of various species, mostly young snow geese, from the area. Samples were taken to test for suspected bird flu.

People should avoid contact with sick or dead birds and report them to the Department of Agriculture at 800-606-3056 or the Department of Fish and Wildlife using its online form.

Bird hunters should also take steps to avoid exposure to bird flu.

You should not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning or processing birds and decontaminate tools and surfaces with a 10% bleach solution. All carcasses must be bagged and disposed of to prevent feeding by raptors.


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