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'It is vital': As bird flu cases rise in Washington bird owners are urged to skip fairs

A bird flu strain that's very contagious and deadly among chickens is currently spreading throughout the U.S.

SEATTLE — Editor's note: The above video originally aired May 6, 2022.

Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) officials are urging bird owners to skip fairs and exhibitions in a new request as cases of a highly contagious and deadly strain of avian influenza (H5N1) continue to rise in the state.

Bird owners are asked to wait 30 days after the last confirmed detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in the state before attending events.

HPAI is a strain of H5N1, also known as the bird flu, that’s very contagious and deadly among chickens and is currently spreading throughout U.S. poultry flocks.

“It is vital you skip shows, exhibitions, and fairs, for now, to protect bird health and reduce risk of transmission,” Dr. Amber Itle, state veterinarian, said. “With so many confirmed cases in domestic flocks and wild birds, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to avoid commingling of poultry or moving them off of your farm.”

WSDA said the spread of the virus is gaining momentum but hopes their new request is short-lived.

“If flock owners could remain diligent for just a few weeks until the waterfowl complete their migration north, we should be able to get through the worst of it,” Itle said. “We anticipate activities can resume to normal by the end of June.” 

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Since the first case of the H5N1 was announced in Washington state on May 5, six counties have had confirmed infections and several other suspected cases are being investigated, according to WSDA.

The counties with confirmed cases include Whatcom, Okanogan, Clallam, Pierce, Spokane and Pacific. All of the cases have been detected in backyard flocks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPAI infections have a 90-100% mortality rate in chickens, affecting multiple internal organs and causing death within 48 hours. 

As of late April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has recorded animal infections in more than two dozen states. 

If bird owners see any signs of influenza, including multiple sick birds and sudden deaths, they are asked to call WSDA's sick bird hotline at 1-800-606-3056 or visit the department's online reporting tool.

For more information on the bird flu, visit agr.wa.gov/birdflu.

    

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