Avian flu outbreak at Fort Flagler

Initial tests find infection in seals

OLYMPIA — Bird flu has killed more than 1,700 birds on Rat Island and other areas near Fort Flagler State Park and appears to have spread to seals.

The state departments of Health (DOH) and Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) have issued a warning to the public to avoid contact with wild birds and other wild animals, especially sick or dead wild animals or their young.

The avian influenza outbreak in Jefferson County began in early July, DOH said in a press release.

WDFW staff have removed more than 1,700 dead Caspian terns and gulls from Rat Island and adjacent shores near Fort Flagler State Park, and preliminary results indicate three harbor seals from the same area also were infected with avian influenza, DOH said.

Confirmation testing on the seals was pending.

Additionally, recent detections of infected Caspian terns have been documented near the Port of Everett, Port of Tacoma and along the lower Columbia River.

“People and their pets should avoid all contact with sick or dead wildlife,” DOH said. “While avian influenza infections among people are rare, human infections can happen when the virus gets into a person’s eyes, nose, or mouth, or is inhaled.”

People can be at greater risk of infection during close or lengthy unprotected contact (not wearing respiratory protection or eye protection) with infected animals or surfaces contaminated with saliva, or feces of infected animals, the DOH said.

Anyone who finds a sick wild animal is advised not to attempt to move the animal to a veterinarian or rehabilitation center or a person’s home as this can spread the disease. Instead, people are asked to report it to WDFW at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/diseases/bird-flu.

As resources are available, biologists may respond to remove carcasses and, if in an area or species where avian influenza has not been confirmed, test for the virus, WDFW said.

“Due to the magnitude of this outbreak, WDFW staff will not be able to respond to all reported cases,” DOH said.

To report a dead, injured or stranded marine mammal along the West Coast (i.e., off California, Oregon and Washington), call the NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region Stranding Hotline at 1-866-767-6114.

Reports of suspected avian influenza in domestic poultry flocks should be sent to the state Department of Agriculture. Call 1-800-606-3056 or visit their webpage for more information about how to protect poultry and other domestic birds.

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