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Jan. 29, 2023

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Bird flu detected in Cowlitz County flock

State launches online reporting tool for disease

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A Cowlitz County domestic flock tested positive for bird flu last week, and state officials urge precaution ahead of what they believe will be a surge in cases in the fall.

Bird owners should expect to continue extra “biosecurity measures” — such as preventing contact with wild birds — through the fall, Washington state veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle said in a news release.

“The fall avian migration is starting, meaning we’re likely to see more bird flu cases throughout the state again,” she said.

In anticipation of the increase, the Washington State Department of Agriculture launched a domestic sick bird online reporting tool last week. Owners also can report sick birds to the department’s hotline at 1-800-606-3056.

Anyone who encounters sick or dead wild birds can report them on the state Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Avian flu is contagious and can kill a farm’s chickens, pheasants, turkeys and other domestic fowl, according to the state Department of Health. A high pathogenic virus, what is currently spreading, results in a higher death rate in some poultry species.

The biggest risk factor is direct contact with wild waterfowl, which all 34 infected domestic flocks had before becoming ill, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

This strain of avian influenza first was detected in early May in a small backyard flock in Pacific County.

Itle, the state veterinarian, advises flock owners to assess risk factors and continue safety while allowing birds outside of hot coops as summer continues.

“It’s a double-edged sword: It’s not safe to let them out for long periods of time where they may come in contact with the virus, but it’s also not safe to leave them in a hot coop,” she said.

State veterinarians also recommend that owners avoid bringing birds to fairs, exhibits, poultry auctions and on-farm sales.

Last week, organizers canceled the Kalama Small Animal and Poultry Market’s fall sale, citing bird flu risks. In May, the spring market also was canceled.

After detection, state and federal animal health officials monitor for bird flu symptoms in flocks within a 6.2-mile zone of the sick flock. Owners in this radius are encouraged to self-report their birds’ health online.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture has veterinarians who can test a flock at no charge — usually within 24 hours — as long as it receives a bird flu report and a state veterinarian believes a flock is infected. Any flock found with the flu will be euthanized, with the chance for owners to get federal compensation.

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