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Thursday, June 1, 2023
June 1, 2023

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Avian flu epidemic reaches wild birds in Oregon

Risk to humans is low, but disease can be deadly


Avian flu has been detected in wild birds in Oregon.

“Several” Canada goose goslings in Lane County, along with an osprey and a red-tailed hawk, have tested positive for the deadly bird disease, Oregon Fish and Wildlife reported Wednesday.

This follows detection of the highly contagious virus earlier this month in a backyard flock in Linn County. That was Oregon’s first confirmed avian-flu case in seven years.

“We knew (it) was coming our way after a bald eagle in British Columbia tested positive in early March,” state veterinarian Ryan Scholz said in an Oregon Department of Agriculture statement. The goslings were collected in Eugene’s Alton Baker Park and the osprey and hawk at Dorena Reservoir.

Humans are at very little risk of contracting or spreading avian flu, also known as H5N1, but it can happen.

In April, a man who was working on a Colorado farm with infected poultry was found to have the virus. He remained “largely asymptomatic,” the Colorado Department of Health and Environment reported.

People can be infected when saliva, mucus or feces from an infected bird gets into their eyes, nose or mouth.

Most of the viruses that fall into the bird-flu category do not sicken humans. But those that do, such as H5N1, can be quite deadly. Over the past two decades, reports the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, “19 countries have reported more than 860 total human infections with (H5N1) viruses to the World Health Organization, with about 53 percent of those resulting in death.”

For months Europe has been enduring, in the words of Germany’s federal animal-disease agency, its “strongest avian flu epidemic ever.”

Avian flu can be catastrophic to commercial bird populations, as well as devastating to wild birds and domesticated backyard birds, but the potential impact in Oregon at this point remains little more than guesswork.

“This is a novel strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza that has some unique qualities associated with its virulence in that it is affecting a large number of species (68 so far) and it is causing mortalities among many of its wild avian hosts, a characteristic we do not see in most (such) outbreaks,” state wildlife veterinarian Colin Gillin told The Oregonian/OregonLive in an email. “Europe and Asia have seen similar high wild bird mortalities.”

Oregon Fish and Wildlife cautions Oregonians “to avoid close contact with waterfowl (ducks and geese) this spring and summer. This includes feeding waterfowl, which congregates susceptible birds and enables the disease to spread between birds more easily.”

The agency asks people to avoid touching dead birds or birds that appear sick — and to notify the agency by calling 866-968-2600 or emailing to Wildlife.Health@odfw.oregon.gov.

People with domesticated backyard birds are asked to be extra-vigilant and increase their safety measures in handling their birds.

It remains safe to eat poultry that has been properly handled and cooked, experts point out.

Cooking poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit kills all avian-flu viruses and other bacteria and viruses.