OLYMPIA — Six Washington residents have become ill in an outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium, believed to be linked to wild songbirds, particularly Pine Siskins, state health officials said.
None were reported Monday on the North Olympic Peninsula. Washington state reported one case each in Clark, King, Lewis, Kitsap, Spokane and Thurston counties.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting 19 cases of Salmonella in eight states, the Washington state Department of Health said.
Three Washington cases have required hospitalization, officials said.
No further information about how people were infected was released.
Salmonella germs can spread between species of birds, to pets and to people, officials said.
Department of Health epidemiologist Beth Melius said people shouldn’t touch or hand-feed wild birds with their bare hands.
Symptoms of Salmonella can include fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain and can be fatal in severe cases. Infants, young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with a weakened immune system are at greatest risk.
“Cleaning your bird feeder or bird bath weekly or whenever it is dirty can help keep people and animals healthy,” Melius said.
“And, always wash your hands after touching your bird feeder or bird bath.”
The spread of the disease over the winter could have been boosted by what appears to be a food-driven migration of winter-roaming finches — an anomaly where finches and other species that generally winter in the northern forests of Canada move south and are spotted in areas in larger numbers than in normal years.
This bird migration has been described by the National Audubon Society as “the biggest irruption of northern finches in recent history.”
Pine siskins and other finches are typically year-round residents on the Olympic Peninsula, owing to the region’s mild climate. A record-breaking 9,000 pine siskins were recorded in Christmas Bird Counts conducted by the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society in December, 2,300 more than the previous record of 6,700 set in 2007.
Fish and Wildlife asks the public to report dead birds they observe at https://tinyurl.com/PDN-Report WDFW, and it asks the public to avoid handling them if possible.
Other tips to avoid problems, provided by bird experts:
• Use feeders made from nonporous material like plastic, ceramic or metal. These are less likely than wood to harbor bacteria and other diseases.
• Clean feeders, water containers and birdbaths at least weekly by rinsing with soapy water and then dunking the feeder in a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water.
• Clean up old seed hulls and waste below the feeders by raking, shoveling or sweeping, then discarding in the trash.
• Spread your feeding over several areas or feeders so you’re not encouraging birds to congregate in one place.
• Clean feeders more often if you have large numbers of birds at your feeders.
• Visit with your neighbors who also feed birds and share this information.