Fight against bird flu continues despite Dept. of Agriculture precautions

Jan 18, 2023, 2:35 PM | Updated: Jan 20, 2023, 8:03 am
bird flu...
The current wave of bird flu — contributing to the high cost of poultry and eggs — continues to ravage flocks across the country. (KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

The current wave of bird flu — contributing to the high cost of poultry and eggs — continues to ravage flocks across the country.

This outbreak of avian flu was first detected overseas and hit the United States in February of 2022, and it has spread with deadly results.

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“It’s actually led to the depopulation [deaths] of over 44 million laying hens in the country,” said Amber Betts, a spokesperson with the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA).

Betts says avian flu was detected in Washington state in May but turned up in its first commercial farm in Washington only last month. The flu has already killed over a million birds in our state.

She said after a 2014 and 2015 outbreak of bird flu, farmers and the WSDA learned to take precautions, such as keeping farmers from inadvertently spreading the virus from flock to flock.

In this outbreak, every case in Washington has been linked to wild birds, which can infect flocks by sharing a water source with them, getting into poultry pens, or dropping their feces while flying over pens.

And Betts said we can’t always tell when wild birds are infected.

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“Though we do see the virus in waterfowl like ducks and geese, and we do see them die from it, what is really interesting is that they can actually have this virus and be carriers of it without showing any symptoms,” Betts said.

The virus is challenging on a number of levels. Specifically, Betts said, “how long the virus lives in the environment and on surfaces, how quickly it spreads between the flocks, and how quickly it kills.”

The state’s strategy for fighting the avian flu is to help flock owners quickly identify and test birds that are ill and then euthanize birds exposed to the virus to keep it from spreading.

“We’re still working fast and furious to eradicate this virus,” Betts says. But time is not on anyone’s side. “We are hoping we can get it eradicated before it can reassort and become zoonotic, which means that it would jump from one species to another.”

Although the H1N1 flu originated in swine and the COVID-19 virus came from bats or another animal, she stresses there is no evidence that this strain of avian flu has infected humans, and you can’t get it from eating eggs or poultry.

But if the recent pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we have to take these viruses seriously.

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Theresa Robinson, KIRO 7 News

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Fight against bird flu continues despite Dept. of Agriculture precautions