PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – After a drop in cases in August and most of September, highly pathogenic avian influenza appears to be returning once again in Oregon.
Within the last week, three backyard flocks in the state have confirmed cases of the bird flu: two in Tillamook County and one in Douglas County.
This is the first time cases of HPAI have been confirmed in domestic flocks in these counties. Also within the week, HPAI was confirmed in wild birds in Washington and Multnomah counties for the first time.
Dr. Ryan Scholz, state veterinarian with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, expects cases will increase throughout the fall as waterfowl stretch their wings and begin their seasonal migration.
“We’ve seen wild birds, hawks, eagles, owls, those kinds of birds that have been infected and died from the virus all through the summer. So, we know it’s still here. We know it’s very prevalent and as those birds start to move around and move through the state, we do anticipate, unfortunately, that we probably will see more cases,” he said.
With so many wild birds moving around, Scholz said there’s a greater risk they’ll come in contact with domestic birds, such as chickens, turkeys and ducks, that are highly susceptible to the virus.
These backyard flocks could encounter the HPAI virus in a variety of ways.
Scholz said the thing bird owners should be most aware of is what’s on their shoes or clothing. Anyone who visits a city park or body of water where ducks or geese are present could carry infected fecal matter on their shoes and if they wear those shoes into a chicken coop, it could spread the disease.
Hunters should also be aware of handling wild waterfowl before coming into contact with their birds at home. Scholz suggests designating a special change of clothes and shoes to wear into the coop.
Domestic birds can also come into contact with wild birds if they have access to an open pond that wild ducks might land in.
“Just being cognizant of what you’re doing, not sharing equipment with others without disinfecting it, not going around wild birds… Just simple things like that really help protect our birds, not just from influenza, but from a lot of different viruses too,” Scholz said.
For people who plan to hunt waterfowl this fall, Scholz said scientists don’t view the avian influenza virus as a significant foodborne issue because as long as it’s cooked properly, the virus shouldn’t be a concern.
As far as preventing the spread of the virus goes, Scholz said biosecurity is a farmer’s best defense. Taking steps that keep backyard flocks from coming in contact with wild birds is the number one way to protect them.
“We know that the virus is there. We know it’s all over the state. And so it’s really just a matter of where did it happen to cross over into our domestic birds?” Scholz said.
He said there is a vaccine that was developed to protect birds, but it’s up to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to decide if farmers can use it. Scholz said vaccinating poultry could have implications on international trade and whether the United States’ trading partners will continue to accept poultry if it’s been vaccinated.
In the past, viruses like HPAI have been out-competed by other strains of less-pathogenic avian influenza. For now, scientists are hoping that will happen again.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture has more information online about how farmers can protect their birds from avian influenza.
Oregon doesn’t have a large commercial poultry industry, like other states. Scholz thinks the largest flock in Oregon that’s been infected by HPAI has fewer than 500 chickens. Other states have had farms impacted that had upwards of 1 million birds.