Highly pathogenic avian influenza appears to be gaining a foothold on the West Coast, as the USDA has confirmed cases in backyard flocks in Washington's Pacific and Spokane ounties and in Linn County, Ore.
Samples from the Oregon flock were tested at the Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and samples from the Washington flocks were tested at the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, both part of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, officials said. The cases were confirmed at the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa.
The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is working with state authorities on additional surveillance and testing in areas around the affected flocks. State officials quarantined the affected premises, and birds on the properties will be depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease, APHIS said in a release. Birds from the flocks will not enter the food system.
In Washington, the flock owners reported sick birds and an increased rate of mortality, the Washington State Department of Agriculture reports. Samples taken on May 4 in Pacific County were tested for the presence of H5N1 avian influenza virus in the flock on May 5 by state and federal labs. The Spokane case was confirmed on May 7.
These are the first detections of the virus in Washington state in 2022. There are no detections in commercial poultry in the state.
“We have a vigorous response plan but this development demonstrates how important good biosecurity can be, especially for backyard bird owners,” state veterinarian Dr. Amber Itle said. “We have not diagnosed the virus anywhere else in our domestic poultry population, but the presence of the virus in migratory waterfowl is a risk to backyard poultry. One step owners should take is preventing contact between their birds and wild birds.”
Oregon has been preparing for the eventual arrival of HPAI since an eagle in British Columbia was confirmed to have the disease in early March, state veterinarian Dr. Ryan Scholz said, according to KTVZ-TV in Bend. He urged bird owners to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds and report sick birds or unusual deaths.
The West Coast cases come as an additional infection was recently reported in Utah, as the state Department of Agriculture and Food confirmed a case at the Zootah petting zoo in Logan on April 29. Zootah closed its facility as soon as the case was confirmed and is under a state-ordered quarantine, UDAF said.
“The owners of Zootah notified our office of the infected bird immediately,” said Utah state veterinarian Dr. Dean Taylor. “They have worked closely with our office on their response plan and implementing proper quarantine measures at their zoo.”
Outbreaks of the H5N1 bird flu have devastated commercial poultry operations in the Midwest this year, killing over 37 million chickens and turkeys, according to Bloomberg News. With more deaths expected through next month, the virus is quickly becoming the country’s worst outbreak.
HPAI has yet to show up in commercial flocks in the West, but the disease has already been found in backyard flocks in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah and Idaho.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on April 29 declared a state of emergency, establishing a Unified Command Group to respond to the outbreak. The group includes representatives from the state departments of Agriculture, Public Safety and Public Health and Environment. The panel is working through a state emergency operations center and is seeking to establish a structure to effectively respond to any new detections of the disease, ag officials say.
APHIS encourages both small and large poultry producers to materials about biosecurity, including videos, checklists, and a toolkit here.
[This story has been updated.]