State veterinarian urges flock owners to skip fairs, exhibitions due to bird flu outbreak

As an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 continues spreading across Washington, Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) officials are urging bird owners to skip fairs and exhibitions until 30 days after the last confirmed detection of HPAI in the state.  

State officials are hopeful this request will be short-lived.

“If flock owners could remain diligent for just a few weeks until the waterfowl complete their migration north, we should be able to get through the worst of it,” Dr. Amber Itle, state veterinarian said. “We anticipate activities can resume to normal by the end of June.”

With a half-dozen cases since the first confirmed detection less than a week ago, the spread of the virus is gaining momentum. Officials say biosecurity has never been more important for bird owners. That includes staying home and withdrawing from all exhibition events.  Commingling of domestic birds from multiple households where ducks, geese, and poultry often share housing, equipment, and show spaces is a very high-risk activity for disease transmission.

“It is vital you skip shows, exhibitions, and fairs for now to protect bird health and reduce risk of transmission,” Dr. Amber Itle, state veterinarian, said. “With so many confirmed cases in domestic flocks and wild birds, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to avoid commingling of poultry or moving them off of your farm.”

State veterinarians are urging flock owners to be hyper-vigilant in ensuring there is no farm-to-farm transfer of the virus from infected flocks and eliminate exposure of domestic flocks to wild birds as much as possible. Right now, this is a call to voluntarily cancel all of these events. If cases continue to rise, event closures may be mandated by emergency rule.

If bird owners see signs of influenza, including multiple sick birds or multiple sudden deaths, contact WSDA’s sick bird hotline to report. If only a single bird is sick or dies, contact your veterinarian.

Itle says one step flock owners should continue to take is preventing contact between their flocks and wild birds by eliminating access to ponds or standing water on their property and keeping different domestic species like ducks and geese penned separately from chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, and peacocks. Flock owners should also limit access to their farms, not lend or share farm tools or equipment, and not share or sell eggs from backyard flocks. While eating cooked eggs does not pose a health risk, transferring eggs off-farm could also transfer the virus.

There is no immediate public health concern due to the avian influenza virus detected. As always, the meat from both wild game birds and domestic poultry should be properly cooked.

Report unusual, multiple deaths or illness among domestic birds to the WSDA Avian Health Program at 1-800-606-3056. Report dead or sick wild birds using the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s online reporting tool.

Since May 5 when the first case of avian influenza was announced in Washington, six counties have had infected domestic or wild birds, and several other suspect cases are being investigated.

Avian influenza can be transmitted from wild birds to domestic birds through direct contact, fecal contamination, transmission through the air, environmental contamination, and shared water sources. The virus can also be spread from farm to farm. Both wild and domestic waterfowl can be infected with the virus and not show signs of disease.

Reducing or eliminating contact between wild birds and domestic flocks and practicing good biosecurity is the best way to protect domestic birds from this disease. Bird owners should bring their flocks inside or undercover to protect them from wild waterfowl.

Visit or USDA’s Defend the Flock program for more information about avian influenza and protecting flocks from this disease.