The virus known as Bird Flu was first documented in 1996. The virus was initially isolated from a farm goose in China’s Guandong Province. Since then, several strains have circled the globe.
The most recent strain is known as Highly Pathogenic Eurasian H5N1 Avian Influenza. The strain has gone global affecting domestic and wild bird populations and crossing into other species including humans.
Krysta Rogers, a senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, confirmed that the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 has officially been detected in Mendocino County.
On July 20, 2022, a wood duck was found dead in a pond within county lines and reported to her agency. Upon analysis, the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 was detected and found present in the waterfowl.
A press release issued yesterday by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife indicates that the virus has been attributed to the death of 34 wild birds found in 13 counties including Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Mendocino, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, Santa Clara, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, and Yolo.
This specific strain is said to be causing illness and death at higher rates than previous strains of avian influenza. Waterfowl, raptors, and avian scavengers have been particularly vulnerable to the virus which is nearly always fatal.
Rogers provided guidance to mitigate the spread of the H5N1 strain amongst both wild and domestic birds:
- Avoid providing food or water to wild birds, especially if backyard chickens or other domestic birds are present.
- Do not allow wild birds to enter domestic bird enclosures.
- For those who recreate in areas with large amounts of waterfowl, take the time to disinfect footwear and clothing to mitigate potential spread to other sites.
- To disinfect, wash affected articles of clothing with soap and water, then soak in a 1:10 bleach/water solution for ten minutes.
The Center for Disease Control considers the risk of spread to humans low but recommends limiting contact with wild birds and sick or dead poultry. If there is a need to dispose of a dead bird, wear gloves, place it in a trashcan, and wash hands with soap and water while also changing and washing the clothing worn while disposing of the bird.
There is no known vaccine or treatment for this strain of avian influenza. At this point, the biggest tool in controlling the virus is tracking its spread. The public can help in that process by using CDFW’s mortality reporting form if a sick or dead wild/domestic bird is located.