Avian Influenza

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Avian Influenza in Humans

To contact the Avian Health Program email or call 360-725-5494

What is avian influenza?

Avian influenza, or bird flu, is a contagious viral infection commonly found in birds. The virus can affect several species of poultry, as well as wild birds and pet birds. Avian influenza virus has caused illness in people, but only one bird-to-human case has ever been reported in the United States.

Is it a problem in Washington State?

Avian influenza is described as low-pathogenic avian influenza, or LPAI, and high-pathogenic avian influenza, or HPAI. The low-pathogenic strain occurs naturally in wild birds and can spread to domestic birds. In this form, the disease is typically not fatal, however it can cause respiratory problems in some birds. Low-pathogenic avian influenza has been found in wild birds in Washington for many years.

High-pathogenic avian influenza is fatal in poultry and spreads quickly. The first outbreak of high-pathogenic avian influenza occurred in Washington in 2014. We expect the disease will remain an on-going risk for poultry in our state.

Even low-pathogenic strains of the virus have the potential to mutate into high-pathogenic strains in domestic ducks, chickens, and other types of poultry.

How do birds get avian influenza?

Infected birds can spread avian influenza through their saliva, nasal secretions and feces. If non-infected birds come in contact with infected birds, they can easily become infected. Birds can also become infected from contaminated equipment or materials. In Washington, wild birds may be one way the virus is transmitted.

What are the symptoms of avian influenza in birds?

For birds infected with low-pathogenic avian influenza:
  For birds infected with high-pathogenic avian influenza:
  • Decreased egg production
  • Mild respiratory disease

In some cases, there will be no symptoms at all.



Some of the signs will be similar:

  • Discharge from the eyes or nasal openings
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Decrease in appetite or drinking
  • Decreased egg production

Birds could show other symptoms too, such as:

  • Swollen comb or wattle
  • Bluish comb, wattle, or legs
  • Blood-tinged nasal or eye discharge
  • Tilting head
  • Lack of coordination
  • Sudden death

Flock owners might also see a high death rate in their flock. 

How can you prevent avian influenza in birds?

The best way to prevent birds from becoming infected is to keep the virus from reaching your birds in the first place. That means learning the signs of infection and practicing good biosecurity. Here are biosecurity best practices:

Limit contact with your birds

  • Do not allow visitors and animals to have access to your birds.Keep your poultry separate from water fowl, especially wild water fowl.
  • People who work with your birds should not own or be around other birds.

  • Provide visitors with disposable boots, or have them clean their shoes before and after their visit.

Keep it clean

  • Keep some shoes and clothes to wear only around your birds. Or be sure to wear clean clothes and disinfect your shoes before visiting your birds.
  • Scrub shoes with a scrub brush and disinfectant to remove droppings, mud, and debris.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap, water, and disinfectant before entering your bird area.

Don't bring disease home

  • If you visit someplace that has birds or where bird owners visit, like a feed store, clean and disinfect your vehicle and anything else that travelled with you.
  • When returning from a fair or exhibition, keep the birds that attended separate from the rest of the flock for at least 2 weeks.
  • Keep new birds separate from the flock for at least 30 days.
  • Don't share equipment, birds, or other items with neighbors or other bird owners.

Biosecurity - what is it?

“Bio” refers to life, and “security” indicates protection - Biosecurity is the key to keeping poultry healthy.

Biosecurity is a term that refers to practices anyone can take to make sure they do not carry disease into or out of an area housing poultry. Examples of biosecurity measures include washing boots or shoes before entering and upon leaving a chicken coop, sanitizing equipment used around poultry and wearing clean clothing around birds.

Are you practicing good biosecurity?

This U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) checklist can guide you in developing a good biosecurity plan for your premises.

What if my birds catch avian influenza?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for avian influenza. If one or more of your birds are found to have the virus, the only option is to humanely euthanize your flock. High pathogenic avian influenza kills the majority of birds infected in a matter of days, sometimes within a single day. Birds infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza can spread the virus among flocks.

While euthanizing a flock is a painful process for bird owners, it is the only way to prevent the virus from spreading to other flocks. For flock owners who have invested in their birds or earn income from them, in some cases the USDA will provide compensation for the loss of birds euthanized to contain an outbreak of avian influenza.

Can I vaccinate my birds against avian influenza?

The USDA has not yet approved a vaccine for avian influenza, although testing on potential vaccines continues.

Can people become sick from avian influenza?

While it is possible for people to contract avian influenza from birds, only one such case has been reported in the United States. There have been no reported cases of people contracting avian influenza from birds in the State of Washington. To learn more about avian influenza in humans, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Are poultry products safe to eat?

Chicken, eggs and other poultry and poultry products are safe to eat when properly handled and cooked. Be sure to follow these steps for safer food:
  • Wash hands and clean and sanitize work surfaces and equipment.
  • Do not wash poultry.
  • Separate raw and cooked meat to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Cook poultry thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Keep poultry stored at 40 F or below or, in the freezer at 0 F or below.

Response plans created by WSDA and other government agencies, along with the poultry industry, are designed to protect the nation’s poultry supply. 

Avian flu response plans typically include:

  • Establishing quarantine zones in areas with infected poultry flocks and prohibiting the movement of poultry and poultry products, like eggs, from quarantine zones.
  • Extensive testing of birds in the surrounding area to ensure the virus has not spread.

Consumers should look for the USDA label on poultry products you purchase – this means the meat has been inspected to ensure it is safe.

  • Commercial grocery stores sell only federally inspected poultry.

Information for veterinarians

Animal health professionals who work with or around birds should take special care to avoid spreading avian influenza. Here are some suggestions for veterinarians:
  • Educate your clients about on the risks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in Washington.
  • If you handle sick birds, wear protective clothing such as disposable gloves, a mask, coveralls, and boots.
  • Isolate any ill birds and contact WSDA if you suspect avian influenza.

If you visit anyplace that has poultry, be sure to follow strict biosecurity measures entering and leaving. Also:

  • Limit and record your movements and the movement of vehicles onto farms.
  • If you visit a farm and suspect birds there are infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza, stay on the farm and contact WSDA immediately.
  • Wash and disinfect items going on and off farms, such as footwear, vehicles and equipment.

Who to call

Issue: Contact:

If you experience unexplained illness or death in your flock

WSDA Avian Health Program

For food safety questions

WSDA Food Safety Program

If you are concerned because you or your family member becomes sick

Washington State Department of Health 

More Information

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife monitors cases of avian influenza in wild waterfowl to ensure that the disease does not gain a foothold in our state. Please report wild birds displaying any of the symptoms of avian influenza to your veterinarian or the WDFW.

More info on avian influenza