PORT TOWNSEND — A household flock of domestic poultry in Jefferson County is the latest to be been found infected with avian flu in a state that leads the nation in backyard flocks with the virus.
Of the 28 backyard flocks in the state that have been discovered with avian influenza, or (HPAI) H5N1, one was discovered near Port Ludlow on Friday, according to a map, and two were detected in eastern Clallam County in May.
No other infected flocks have been found in either county, said Amber Betts, spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), on Wednesday.
There is no vaccination or cure for the avian flu and it is always fatal, say health authorities, so all flocks in which the virus is detected are culled within 24 hours of test results. The one in Jefferson County was a mixed flock (chickens and/or geese or ducks) of less than 100 birds, Betts said; she did not have a more precise number.
Those culled in Clallam County were one flock of 10 chickens and one of 12 geese; those areas are no longer under surveillance.
The rest of the backyard flocks are “literally all over the state,” Betts said.
The only good news is that no avian influenza has been detected in commercial flocks, thus protecting the food supply, she said. Eggs are regularly one of Washington’s top 10 commodities with a value of over $220 million in 2020.
Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Jefferson and Clallam counties, said that “thankfully, this strain of avian influenza is very unlikely to transmit to humans.”
Despite the low risk to humans, Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is monitoring all human contacts for disease. JCPH will also follow up with testing and referral to treatment if needed, said Liz Anderson, county public health department spokesperson.
There are no known human cases of avian influenza in Washington state, authorities said.
Domestic flocks are thought to have been infected by wild fowl. Every flock in which avian flu has been found had contact with wild birds, Betts said.
“If there are wild waterfowl in the area, there is probably avian influenza,” she said.
Migratory patterns suggest that the wild birds are coming from the south right now, Betts said.
“All of those flyways meet in the north (northern U.S. and Canada), so birds from Asia” and elsewhere across the water “and from our flyways meet and mingle and share their germs and the virus mutates, and then they come back down and spread it,” she said.
So the expectation is that another surge of avian influenza is likely in the fall, she said.
The present statewide surge in the virus is unprecedented, according to Dr. Amber Itle, state veterinarian, in a press release.
“Our staff has stepped up to the challenge and have done a tremendous job responding to these reports, identifying which flocks are infected, and taking quick action to limit the spread of the disease,” she said.
“Even though the extra biosecurity measures (keeping flocks separate from wild fowl) have put an extra burden on both backyard and commercial flock owners, the good news is that it is working,” Itle said. “Those that have kept their flocks isolated and have been careful not to bring the virus in themselves still have healthy flocks.”
Itle recommends that flock owners keep their birds confined and covered until 30 days after the last detection of HPAI in the state. The unseasonably cold, wet conditions have caused both migratory birds and the virus to linger in the environment, she said.
“We could be in this for the long haul,” Itle said. “In Europe, they have been dealing with this virus continuously for the past 18 months. While we hope that won’t be the case here, it is a possibility and we should be prepared for it.”
Domestic bird illness and death can be reported to the WSDA Avian Health Program at 1-800-606-3056. Report dead or sick wild birds using the state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s online reporting tool.
To judge how close an infected flock is to other areas, see the WSDA map at https://www.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=5bb22df733ae49b29ac7b3cc3c7fc3e3.
For more about avian flu, see https://agr.wa.gov/departments/animals-livestock-and-pets/avian-health/avian-influenza/bird-flu-2022.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].