Bird flu confirmed in wild birds in Whatcom County

Two strains of bird flu have been confirmed in wild birds in Whatcom County, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday, Dec. 16.

Tests identified H5N2 in a northern pintail duck and H5N8 in a gyrfalcon fed wild birds killed by hunters, agriculture officials said.

Bird flu can be deadly to poultry and other birds.

The state Department of Agriculture will hold a town hall meeting to discuss bird flu and what poultry owners can do to protect their birds now that the disease has been confirmed among wild birds in the state.

The public meeting will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, in the Mt. Baker Rotary Building at the Northwest Washington Fair and Event Center, 1775 Front St. in Lynden. Poultry producers and owners of backyard flocks are encouraged to attend.

Officials stressed that the strains don’t pose an immediate health concern for the public because they have been found elsewhere in the world and have yet to infect humans.

And there hasn’t been a reported case of a person in the U.S. becoming sickened with bird flu from an infected bird. Properly cooked waterfowl and domestic poultry do not sicken people.

Neither virus has been found in commercial poultry in the United States, the USDA said.

The cases were quickly reported and identified given the increased surveillance and testing of birds in Whatcom County after the outbreak of the H5N2 strain in commercial poultry in British Columbia.

Meanwhile, officials said commercial producers and backyard bird enthusiasts can keep the flu away from their flocks by taking steps that include preventing contact with wild birds, because it’s not usual for wild water fowl to carry strains of the flu.

The virus can be spread by direct contact with infected birds, contaminated equipment and through airborne transmission over short distances, the Department of Agriculture said. The virus is in feces, saliva and respiratory secretions of birds that have the disease.

Birds affected by avian influenza can show symptoms that include:

• decreased appetite.

• coughing and sneezing.

• lowered egg production.

• greenish diarrhea.

• excessive thirst.

• swollen wattles and combs.

Learn more at healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov.

Illness in domestic birds should be reported to the Department of Agriculture’s Avian Health Program at 1-800-606-3056.

Sick and dead wild birds should be reported to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife at 1-800-606-8768.

People concerned about sickness in themselves or their family, can contact the state Department of Health at 1-800-525-0127.