Charlie Powell

Public Information Officer, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine


•  On Dec.15, the United States Department of Agriculture announced the presence of two strains of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild birds in Washington State.

•  To date, both strains of HPAI are occurring ONLY in wild bird species in Washington State.

•  There is NO SIGN of the viruses in any commercial poultry flocks.

•  There is ALMOST NO RISK to human health as the disease has never been seen in people in the U.S.

•  The many strains of AI occur commonly in wild birds worldwide and the disease risks are well-known to both human and animal disease experts.

Animal disease authorities both nationally and in Washington were already on high alert when in early December a large wild duck die-off occurred in Northwest Washington.


The event was soon under investigation by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The alertness and quick response was all part of the multi-agency disease surveillance vigilance that comes with knowing British Columbia, Canada, had begun dealing with an outbreak of HPAI, strain H5N2, earlier this fall.


On Dec. 9, samples from the ducks were tested for avian influenza (AI) at the Washington State University, Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Puyallup, Wash. (WADDL-Puyallup). Results were presumptive positive for a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus.


The “highly pathogenic” designation means it was an influenza virus capable of causing severe disease and high mortality in domestic poultry.


On Dec. 11, a privately-owned falcon from the same region was submitted by its owner to WADDL-Puyallup for cause of death determination.  Based upon the history of being legally fed wild duck meat, testing for AI was once again initiated immediately.  Within hours results were presumptive positive for two indicators of HPAI. By protocol, additional samples from both cases were expedited to the USDA-National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa, for confirmatory testing and further virus characterization.


Independently, samples were also received by the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisc. On Dec. 14, the falcon was confirmed positive for the H5N8 strain of AI, or HPAI H5N8.


Almost simultaneously with the identification of HPAI in the falcon, a wild duck from the same geographical region of Washington was also confirmed positive for HPAI H5N2.


Immediately after the confirmation of HPAI in Washington State, the USDA, Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Washington Department of Health, and WSU’s Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory collaborated with others to establish a pre-planned incident command structure and an aggressive enhanced surveillance program for AI.


On Dec. 18, WSU-WADDL in Pullman, began receiving samples for HPAI testing in its Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) testing laboratories, a core laboratory in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.  WSU-WADDL’s experienced and highly trained laboratory staff use state-of-the-art equipment to conduct high throughput testing, meaning large volumes of samples and the shortest turn-around times.  Combined with its information technology expertise and nationally standardized procedures WSU-WADDL can effectively and safely conduct HPAI testing.


It is expected that surveillance testing will continue for months and include analysis of perhaps thousands of samples.  Should the situation worsen, WADDL and its partner laboratories in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network are prepared to handle whatever testing loads may arise. WADDL is also working closely with both NVSL and the NWHC in further diagnostic testing and characterization.


Important information links:


All bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, are encouraged to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and to report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to State/Federal officials, either through your state veterinarian or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593. Additional information on biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found at:


Washington State Department of Agriculture

Persons seeing sickness in domestic birds are asked to contact the WSDA Avian Health Program at 1-800-606-3056. Sick and dead wild birds should be reported to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at 1-800-606-8768. If you are concerned about sickness in you or your family, please contact Washington State Department of Health at 1-800-525-0127. and


Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife


Kristin Mansfield, WDFW Veterinarian (509) 892-1001, ext. 326 or cell (509) 998-2023


Figure 1. The comb and wattles are congested and markedly edematous.

Photo: Dr. D. Swayne, USDA

Figure 2. The shanks are swollen (edema) and extensively reddened (hemorrhages).

Photo: Dr. D. Swayne USDA.