Officials say a wild duck and a captive falcon in Whatcom County in northwest Washington state were infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza, similar to the virus killing thousands of chickens and turkeys in British Columbia.
The H5N2 virus, which has struck 10 B.C. poultry farms, was found in a northern pintail duck. A separate highly contagious avian influenza strain, H5N8, was found in a gryfalcon, which died after eating a hunter-killed wild duck.
Both types are equally dangerous, State Veterinarian Joe Baker said. Further tests will have to be conducted to determine whether the H5N2 virus found in the Whatcom County duck precisely matches the genetic makeup of the strain in B.C., he said.
Avian influenza has not been found in any Washington poultry, state Department of Agriculture spokesman Hector Castro said. The department has stepped up testing of flocks in Whatcom County since the outbreak in Canada.
Baker said he believes this was the first time a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza has been found in Washington state.
He encouraged poultry owners in northwest Washington to alert WSDA to ill birds. “We feel like testing dead and sick and birds will be very important,” he said.
WSDA will hold a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, in the Mount Baker Rotary Building at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds in Lynden to discuss avian influenza and steps poultry owners should take to protect their birds.
The meeting will be open to the public. WSDA particularly encouraged poultry producers or owners of backyard flocks to attend.
The virus was first reported in British Columbia on Dec. 1 and has killed or forced authorities to euthanize 233,800 birds, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The H5N2 virus was confirmed Dec. 13 at a 10th operation, a 53,000-acre chicken farm in Langley, about 29 miles east of Vancouver.
The farm was the largest and the first outside the Abbotsford-Chilliwack area, which is farther east and near the Washington border.
Castro said publicity about the disease outbreak in Canada prompted the falcon owner in Washington to report its death.
Swab samples from the captive gyrfalcon were sent to the Washington State University Avian Health & Food Safety Laboratory in Puyallup. The USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Iowa confirmed the positive tests over the weekend.
Baker called the wild duck that the falcon ate the “smoking gun,” though further USDA tests will have to be done on meat leftover from the duck to confirm whether that’s what gave the falcon the virus.
It was not immediately known where the hunter killed that duck.
The other duck, a northern pintail, was found at Wiser Lake south of Lynden, Baker said.
Humans are rarely affected by avian influenza and there has never been a reported instance of a person becoming ill from an infected bird in the United States, although some cases have occurred in foreign countries where people have come in close contact with infected birds, according to WSDA.
The virus can be spread by direct contact with infected birds, contaminated equipment and through airborne transmission over short distances. The virus is found in feces, saliva and respiratory secretions of birds carrying the disease.
Signs of infection include decreased appetite, coughing and sneezing, lowered egg production, greenish diarrhea, excessive thirst and swollen wattles and combs.
Persons seeing sickness in domestic birds are asked to contact the WSDA Avian Health Program at 1-800-606-3056. Sick and dead wild birds should be reported to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at 1-800-606-8768.