Raccoons with avian flu in Pasco, WA. Ill Tri-Cities birds


The first confirmed case of avian flu in a mammal in Washington state has been detected in a baby raccoon at Sacajawea Historical State Park in Pasco.

It also is the first case of avian flu confirmed in a raccoon in North America, according to the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The agency is warning pet owners not to let their dogs and cats scavenge sick or dead birds or other wildlife or even interact with sick wildlife.

Four raccoon kits with apparent avian influenza were found at the park at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers earlier this month, according to Fish and Wildlife. One was tested to confirm the disease.

Two of the kits were dead, and the other two were obviously sick and were euthanized.

Avian flu was detected in the Tri-Cities starting in May this year in baby geese. Visitors to the park were finding dead goslings and baby geese that were walking in circles, having seizures and sitting still and letting people approach them.

That was followed by reports of more geese with avian flu across the Tri-Cities area; a mallard, a duck and a crow in Richland; a gull at Sacajawea Park; and a sandhill crane in Connell.

To date, Benton and Franklin counties are not among the 10 counties in Washington with outbreaks in backyard poultry flocks. However, flukes in Spokane and Yakima counties have tested positive.

While sick goslings, in particular, continue to be reported, officials have been receiving reports fewer than it did initially, said Staci Lehman with the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Avian flu, or bird flu, is very contagious among birds. It is spread through saliva and feces and surfaces contaminated with them, such as the bottom of shoes.

Bird flu in mammals

Avian flu has previously been detected in red foxes and skunks in North America. Elsewhere in the world, it has infected pigs in Asia, domestic cats in Germany and a domestic dog in Thailand.

There’s the potential for it to infect other mammals as bird flu viruses evolve, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife does not expect the spread of avian flu to have a large impact at this time on wildlife in the state.

People should be watching for it in their backyard flocks of chickens, ducks and poultry.

One strain of avian flu, highly pathogenic avian influenza, HPAI, is generally fatal for birds. But there may be no signs of disease or mild signs such as ruffled feathers or a drop in egg production in the low pathogenic avian influenza, or LPAI, strain.

A single sick bird in a flock should be reported to your veterinarian. If multiple birds die or have an unusual illness, you are asked to call the state sick bird hotline at 800-606-3056.

There is no treatment for the disease.

Avian flu is not easily transmissible from birds to people, but there are occasional cases.

Just one case in a person in the United States has been reported this spring. A person who had handled infected poultry tested positive for an avian flu virus.

People who see a wild bird or mammal that appears to be infected or dead should contact Fish and Wildlife

Any sick or dead wild birds should be reported to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website. Search wdfw.wa.gov for “report wildlife observations” to find the correct form.

Avoiding avian flu

Fish and Wildlife recommends common sense precautions to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading avian flu or any wildlife disease:

Wear disposable gloves when cleaning harvested birds or cleaning bird feeders.

Do not dispose of processed bird carcasses in the field where they could be eaten by scavengers or raptors. Bag them and place in the garbage, bury or incinerate them.

Ensure that all equipment (boots, clothes, vehicles, firearms) are cleaned and disinfected to prevent the spread of diseases.

Do not harvest or handle wild birds that are obviously sick or found dead.

Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game.

Wash hands with soap and water or use alcohol hand sanitizer immediately after handling game or cleaning bird feeders.

Wash tools and work surfaces used to clean game birds with soap and water, then disinfect with a 10% solution of chlorine bleach.

Separate raw meat, and anything it touches, from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid contamination.

Cook game birds thoroughly. Meat should reach an internal temperature of 155 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill disease organisms and parasites.

If you experience flu-like symptoms following contact with sick or dead wild birds or have concerns about potential exposure to infected birds, contact the Benton Franklin Health District for recommendations and guidance on monitoring symptoms or possible testing.

This story was originally published June 17, 2022 12:42 PM.

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Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.

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