By Steve Guntli
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is petitioning local residents to help track strains of the avian flu, which was recently discovered in Whatcom County.
The strain of avian flu is not harmful to humans, but can be devastating to local birds, particularly domestic poultry.
WDFW is asking for anyone who finds a sick or dead wild bird to immediately call 800/606-8768. Waterfowl are carriers of the disease, but predatory birds like hawks, falcons and eagles can spread the flu as well.
The WDFW is also asking hunters to submit their harvested birds for a brief test. The department is focusing its efforts on Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, Thurston and Clark counties.
“The sampling procedure takes less than a minute per bird. It will help us determine the prevalence of the disease in wild birds,” said Don Kraege of the WDFW. “Waterfowl are carriers of the disease, but often don’t show symptoms. The primary risk is to domestic chickens and turkeys.”
The outbreak of bird flu was first detected in the Fraser Valley in early December. Canadian health officials quarantined seven farms in the area after identifying the flu. Officials have scheduled more than 100,000 birds for euthanasia.
The flu was first identified in Whatcom County on December 16. WDFW officers discovered two separate strains in a wild pintail duck and a domestic gyrfalcon. Investigators traced the duck back to Wiser Lake, just south of Lynden. The Whatcom County strains are different from the H5N2 strain found in Canada, but just as virulent and dangerous to birds.
Last week, authorities discovered another strain in 100 guinea fowl at a farm in Winston, Oregon. Officials quarantined the farm and euthanized the remaining birds to limit any further spread.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enacted immediate restrictions on the import of poultry. The CBP has prohibited the importation of uncooked chicken, turkey, duck or goose. Raw eggs, live birds, composted manure and meat from hunter-harvested birds are also restricted.
Prepackaged meat and well-cooked deli meats are still allowed. Pet birds coming down from Canada must have valid health certificates and submit to a 30-day quarantine.
The WDFW emphasizes it is not likely for people to contract the virus from wild birds, but encourages some common-sense precautions. Do not handle sick or dead birds.
Keep raw meat away from cooked or ready-to-eat food products. Hunters should cook harvested game birds to an internal temperature of 155 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Residents can report any sick or dead domestic birds to the Washington State Department of Agriculture at 800/606-3056. For more information, visit wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/avian_flu.