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What You Should Know About Bird Flu In Idaho

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Backyard chicken owners should protect their flocks from bird flu by keeping wild waterfowl away from their birds.

Avian influenza, or bird flu, is in Idaho. The virus is usually spread by wild waterfowl to domestic birds and has recently been found in Oregon, Washington, Utah, and California.

Idaho State Veterinarian Dr. Bill Barton says there have been three incidents of bird flu in the state. One strain of bird flu, H5N8, was found in wild ducks in Gooding County.

Barton says the other strain, H5N2, comes from two flocks which tested positive for bird flu in Canyon County. One is a private falconry, the other was a backyard poultry flock. The chicken flock, near Parma, was destroyed and the Idaho Department of Agriculture has established a six-mile quarantine zone around the area. That means no eggs, poultry or poultry products can enter or leave the zone without a special permit.

Wild ducks can carry bird flu, Barton says they’ve adapted to survive it. But in domestic birds, it’s highly fatal. “If we get it in our commercial poultry flocks in Idaho, it can be devastating for the poultry industry.”

Barton says international trade is another consequence of the virus.  There are already trade restrictions from Canada, the European Union, and Japan because of recent outbreaks in the Northwest. He says officials must deal with the outbreaks as quickly as possible to minimize the impacts on trade.

As for the virus and people, Barton says “these particular strains that we’re dealing with in Idaho, H5N2 and H5N8, have not been known to affect humans anywhere in the U.S. or internationally to this point,” says Barton. “[But] keep in mind that there are strains of avian influenza which have affected humans.”

He says bird flu has the ability to mutate or change its structure to a form that can affect humans. “That’s why anytime you handle poultry or wild game,” Barton says, “you want to certainly use good hygiene. Wash your hands, take all those good sanitary practices to heart and utilize them.”

Barton has some advice for backyard chicken farmers to keep flocks safe from bird flu. Because the virus is usually spread from wild waterfowl, Barton says keep wild ducks and other birds away from your chickens.

Next he says, practice good bio-security measures. “Clean your shoes off, don’t share supplies, feed, tools, those types of things, between you and another bird owner," Barnton says. "That’s just good bio-security.”

Barton says the virus can be found in bird feces, so don’t track it home to your flock on your shoes.

Symptoms of bird flu include coughing, sneezing, decreased egg production, swelling of the head, and sudden death.

If your backyard chickens get sick or die, report it to the Idaho Department of Agriculture as soon as possible. If you see birds dying on public lands, contact the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

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