Washington State Agriculture Officials Advise Markets to Close Statewide


State agriculture officials confirmed a Thurston County flock tested positive for bird flu on Tuesday, and on Thursday the Washington state veterinarian called for poultry markets to close for a month.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza has been confirmed in nine domestic flocks in seven counties across Washington state. The latest detection occurred in Thurston County near Yelm.

Given the recent cases, state veterinarian Amber Itle has requested live market poultry sales stop for the next 30 days, according to a Thursday news release. Itle issued the advice after discussing the risk with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.

"Temporarily suspending poultry and waterfowl sales is recommended until detections across Washington slow down," Itle said. "This may extend until the end of June."

Closures are not mandatory, but the release says markets that continue sales risk disease transmission. If bird flu is detected at these markets, they would face "thorough animal tracing and extensive cleaning and disinfection requirements."

"Stopping these sales protects not only these backyard flocks but small and large commercial flocks as well," Itle said. "It is all about reducing risk. Bringing birds from different flocks together definitely increases opportunities for this virus to spread and impact more birds."

In the Thurston County case, the flock owner contacted the state Department of Agriculture's Sick Bird Hotline after finding several dead and sick birds, according to a Wednesday news release. Samples tested positive at state and national labs.

Officials then quarantined the birds, which contained chickens, geese, guinea fowl and ducks. The flock will be euthanized to contain the spread of the virus, the release says.

Bird flu was first detected in the state on May 5. No commercial flocks have been affected so far.

Each infected flock, including the Thurston County one, had been exposed to wild waterfowl before testing positive, according to the release.

Itle called on bird owners to protect their birds by keeping them away from wild waterfowl. She also advised owners to skip fairs and exhibitions until at least 30 days after the last detection.

"If we can remain vigilant for a few more weeks, I'm hopeful we can resume normal activities at the end of June," Itle said. "It's going to be especially important to keep flocks away from ponds where resident wild geese may be hatching out goslings. These ponds are highly likely to have heavy environmental contamination."

How to contain spread

Avian influenza can spread from wild birds to domestic birds via direct contact, fecal contamination, the air, environmental contamination and shared water sources.

The virus can be transmitted between farms and survive on surfaces for weeks. Wild and domestic waterfowl can be infected without showing signs of illness.

Humans are unlikely to be infected by HPAI, especially with this year's virus strain, according to the news release.

Commercial poultry products should still be safe because they are screened for disease before entering the market. Still, the release says meat and eggs from any birds should be properly cooked for safe consumption.

Live poultry markets that continue operations are advised to increase biosecurity measures, only sell birds for slaughter, exclude birds showing signs of illness, and keep birds in separate transport containers.

Additionally, the state recommends markets clean and disinfect between sales and post signage about how to report sick birds.

The state keeps track of HPAI detections on its website. Flock owners also can visit an interactive map showing surveillance areas around confirmed detections. The map indicates the affected Thurston County flock resided near Yelm.

Those with flocks in surveillance areas should take extra precautions with their flock, according to the state agriculture department. The state recommends owners keep their flocks inside or undercover, limit visitors to their farms, and change shoes and clothing when leaving separate coops.

Pen waterfowl birds also should be separated from other birds in a flock, the release says.

If owners notice multiple deaths or illness among their flock, the state urges them to call the WSDA Avian Health Program at 800-606-3056. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife also has an online reporting tool for sick wild birds.