Experts offer information on how to keep these egg-laying Cambria hens safe from the deadly avian influenza, which has reached California.
A highly pathogenic Eurasian avian influenza may be heading to the Central Coast.
Pacific Wildlife Care (PWC), which rescues and rehabilitates wildlife in San Luis Obispo County, is quickly responding to the approaching threat.
The virus has been detected in at least 1,825 individual wild birds in 42 states since January, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services.
Infection has also been confirmed in 386 commercial and backyard domestic poultry and mixed-species flocks in 37 states, the Department of Agriculture reported.
Meanwhile, the virus has been detected in several northern California counties, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reported on July 13.
As of July 23, no wild or domestic birds in San Luis Obispo County had reportedly been infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza, also known as HPAI or bird flu.
“Clinical signs in birds are variable and may include sudden death, neurological signs, and/or respiratory signs,” California Fish and Wildlife said, adding that avian influenza cannot always be identified “solely on clinical signs.”
Is avian flu a threat to SLO County?
So is avian flu bound to reach SLO County?
“One thing we have learned during COVID-19 is that our ability to control a virus’ trajectory is impossible and, in time, it will find us here,” PWC executive director Christine Johnson said. “But we are prepared.”
“About the time the virus crossed the Mississippi River, we contacted the San Luis Obispo County (Public) Health Department and asked about transmission to humans – to be sure our volunteers are safe,” Johnson explained.
Johnson, who came aboard as executive director in 2021, said she was told that no evidence at that time indicated that the avian influenza impacts humans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have since reported that the first person in the United States “has tested positive for this virus, after working closely with infected poultry.”
The CDC added that “the risk to the general public remains low.”
In anticipation of the threat, PWC began “placing tarps over the top of our raptor enclosures and placing spinning bird deterrents” over its largest flight pen on July 22, Johnson said.
This strategy is designed to prevent wild birds that may be infected from leaving fecal droppings on the 300-some birds that are currently being treated for unrelated issues in PWC’s facilities.
“We are doing all our intakes outdoors, in a tent,” Johnson said. “Our staff will be using personal protective equipment to protect the animals – not because there is a human risk.”
The center will continue to receive injured and orphaned wildlife, she said.
“We are sending our volunteers out to help with animal rescues as well,” Johnson said. California Fish and Wildlife officials advise that bird flu can be transmitted through “objects such as animal crates, food, water, clothing, vehicles and footwear.”
For that reason, PWC volunteers are asked to dedicate “a pair of shoes that are ‘PWC only shoes,’ ” Johnson explained in an email. “(They) only wear those shoes while on site at the center.”
Keeping local chicken flocks safe
Johnson emphasized the necessity of protecting domestic flocks from HPAI.
“It’s especially important if you have chickens at home to keep both your chickens and the animals in our care safe from this virus,” she said.
She recommended taking down all bird feeders and placing tarps over chicken coops “to keep wild bird feces out.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture published a list of recommendations for those who raise chickens. They are as follows:
- Practice “biosecurity” – prevent the importation of infectious organisms into the flock.
- Wash hands before and after contact with poultry.
- Don’t kiss or snuggle with your birds.
- Clean and disinfect any poultry equipment before and after use.
- Know the signs of disease, and check your flock for signs of illness; quarantine sick birds immediately.
The USDA will test your poultry free of charge. Call 1-866-536-7593 toll free for details.
For more information on Pacific Wildlife Center, email [email protected].