October 6, 2022

Washington Ag Department wants halt to live poultry sales during bird flu

The Washington State Department of Agriculture is requesting that live market poultry sales cease for the next 30 days as a means of combating the spread of bird flu that has hit nine flocks scattered across seven counties in the state.

Confirmed cases of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza have been detected in Pacific, Clallam, Spokane, Whatcom, Okanogan, Pierce, and Thurston counties since May 5, according to the department.

“So we have made some recommendations to temporarily suspend exhibitions, shows, swap meets, and even poultry markets,” state veterinarian Amber Itle said during a Thursday morning virtual press conference.

She went on to say this was an effort to nip the problem in the bud.

“And it would just be really devastating to not, you know take this precaution now to where we could, you know, actually impose this risk mitigation piece to really help prevent the further spread of avian influenza in the state,” Itle noted.

The closure is not mandatory.

“We don’t like to mandate it,” Itle explained. “The reason that I didn’t mandate that we stop and we ban all markets and exhibitions and that sort of thing is because what ends up happening is people just take their sales out into the parking lot and then we have zero traceability of those animals.”

Working with marketers is preferable to a blanket prohibition, she said, in that the state uses records from poultry markets to trace any sick birds in order to prevent the “total nightmare” of finding bird flu at a market or exhibition.

“So, we think prevention or just suspending those sales temporarily is the best way to go at this point,” Itle said.

No commercial flocks in Washington have been affected at this time.

“We’re very fortunate so far – fingers crossed – that we can keep it out of our commercial flocks,” Itle said.

And she would like to keep it that way, calling on bird owners to protect their flocks by keeping them away from wild waterfowl.

“The Department of Fish & Wildlife has confirmed highly pathogenic avian influenza in 12 counties across Washington, including in birds such as bald eagles, Canada geese, snow geese, sandhill crane, red tail hawk, peregrine falcon, a great horned owl, and a mallard duck,” Itle said.

The good news is that bird flu doesn’t appear to be a threat to human health.

“We really don’t think there’s a big public health implication at this point with this particular type of H5N1,” Itle said. “So far, it doesn’t appear to have any human health risks.”

Bird flu has been found in 35 states this year on 338 premises, impacting 338 million birds in the U.S.

The WSDA has set up a bird flu webpage, including a hotline for flock owners to report ill or dead birds: 1-800-606-3056. Ill or dead birds in the wild should be reported to the WDFW.

This article was originally posted on Washington Ag Department wants halt to live poultry sales during bird flu