Bird flu found in wild Whatcom County birds

By Steve Guntli


Two separate strains of avian flu have been confirmed in Whatcom County.

On December 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that H5N2 avian flu had been found in wild northern pintail ducks. H5N8 flu was found in a captive gyrfalcon, which had been fed hunter-killed wild birds.

Avian flu is highly contagious and can be devastating to birds, but is harmless to humans if the poultry has been cooked properly. There has never been
a reported case of humans becoming sick from the avian flu in the U.S., though there have been a few cases in foreign countries, where people have been in close continuous contact with infected birds.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) will hold a town meeting so poultry owners can learn how to protect their birds at 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 18, at the Mount Baker Rotary Building at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds in Lynden.

The department of agriculture has been monitoring the area for bird flu after a recent outbreak in southwestern British Columbia. Seven farms in Fraser Valley are confirmed to have the disease. Nearly 160,000 birds have either died from the disease or will be euthanized. The latest outbreak is the fifth to strike Fraser Valley in 10 years. In 2004, more than 17 million birds were euthanized.

The viruses found the U.S. are different from the ones found in Canada, and it’s too soon to tell if the strains are related, according to the USDA.

Bird owners can prevent their birds from becoming infected by restricting any contact with wild birds. The virus is spread through direct contact with infected birds, through contaminated equipment and through the air over short distances, according to the USDA.

Birds with the flu will show a decreased appetite, lowered egg production, excessive thirst, coughing, sneezing and greenish diarrhea.

Any suspected illness in domestic birds should be reported to the USDA’s Avian Health program by calling 800/606-3056. Sick and dead birds should be reported to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at 800/606-8768. Anyone with concerns about the illness spreading to humans should call the Washington Department of Health at 800/525-0127.

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