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News / Life / Pets & Wildlife

Washington officials issue bird flu warning

By Shea Johnson, The News Tribune
Published: September 8, 2023, 1:30pm

TACOMA — Wild birds infected with avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu, have been detected near the Port of Tacoma and elsewhere in Washington amid an outbreak of the disease that began in early July, leading state health and wildlife officials to urge the public to avoid contact.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has removed more than 1,700 dead Caspian terns and gulls from the currently closed Rat Island and adjacent shores near Fort Flagler State Park, west of Whidbey Island and Everett. Three harbor seals from the vicinity were also infected with the disease, according to preliminary test results cited by the Washington State Department of Health.

Infected Caspian terns — a larger bird than many gulls, according to the Audubon Society — have been recently documented near the ports of Tacoma and Everett and along the lower Columbia River, the state health department said in a statement.

Although bird flu infections in people are rare, they’re not unprecedented and the virus can be transmitted if it enters a person’s eyes, nose or mouth, according to the health department, with individuals at greater risk during close or sustained contact with infected animals or contaminated surfaces. Dogs and other animals can also become sick with the virus.

For those reasons, the health department is warning the public to avoid contact with wild animals, including birds, whether dead or alive. The state’s fish and wildlife department is requesting that anyone who finds sick or dead birds, report them to the department immediately using an online form available at 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,” the state health department said in a statement Friday. “Due to the magnitude of this outbreak, WDFW staff will not be able to respond to all reported cases.”

Individuals should report suspected disease in domestic poultry flocks to the Washington State Department of Agriculture at 1-800-606-3056.

For more information on avian influenza, visit wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/diseases/bird-flu and doh.wa.gov/avian-influenza.