People with small backyard flocks including those who raise chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys and other fowl can play an important role in protecting the state's commercial poultry industry. Mike Hackett, Washington State University Snohomish County Extension educator, says strict sanitation measures are critical to preventing an outbreak of avian influenza.
Pointing to the British Columbia provincial government's emergency destruction of some 19 million birds, Hackett says that vigilance is critical for this state's poultry growers. One quarantined British Columbia farm is within 10 miles of the U.S. border, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that avian flu has been detected in Canada within 600 yards of the border. USDA officials are now visiting farms and rural homes in Whatcom County looking for signs of the disease.
The flu strain found in Canada has not been associated with serious human illness but it is extremely contagious and deadly among birds, including wild birds.
Avian influenza doesn't respect borders, and it's easily spread," Hackett said. "If poultry and waterfowl producers take this threat to heart and enact a series of preventative measures, this economically devastating disease will not establish itself."
The USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service lists the value of poultry and egg production in Washington state at nearly $143 million. Lewis, Thurston, Clark, Cowlitz, Skagit, Whatcom, Snohomish and Pierce counties are the state's leading poultry producers.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture is asking everyone who is raising birds, including pet birds, to monitor for signs of illness. Any suspicion of disease should be promptly reported to the state veterinarian's office. During regular business hours, Monday through Friday, the number is 360-753-9430. Weekend and after-hour calls will be taken by the state Emergency Operations Center, 1-800-258-5990.
WSDA is also urging poultry farmers to limit personal contact with one another and to minimize visitors at their farms to reduce the chance of spreading the disease on shoes or clothing.
Hackett says that cleanliness and avoiding potential contamination from other birds are crucial to controlling the spread of the disease. He also recommends that people raising birds learn the warning signs of avian illness, which include coughing, sneezing, nasal or eye discharge, diarrhea, and reduced egg production.
Contact between a flock and other birds, including pet and wild birds, should be avoided. Hackett also recommends keeping human visitors away, especially if they also raise birds.
The avian flu strain found in British Columbia may cause mild flu symptoms, according to the USDA. Humans may contract the disease through direct contact with infected birds but cannot catch it by eating cooked meat from infected birds.
An extended news release with more detailed information on protecting birds from exposure to avian flu can be found at http://cahenews.wsu.edu.