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Avian influenza

Avian (bird) flu is a virus that mainly affects birds. It spreads among wild birds worldwide and can infect poultry and other birds. Some bird flu viruses can occasionally infect wild mammals that eat birds or poultry (such as bobcats and foxes), pets (such as cats and dogs) and zoo animals.It does not normally infect humans, though in rare cases, it has infected people who have close contact with infected birds or animals. It’s been found in wild birds and other animals in King County but not in pets or people. 

Avian flu and humans

On rare occasions, avian flu viruses infect people and make them sick. This typically has only happened to people who have had close contact with infected birds or other animals, such as workers who handle poultry and dairy cattle. 

A few types of avian flu virus have infected a very small number of people, caused serious illness and have had a high death rate. These virus types are H5N1, H7N9, and H5N6. In the rare instances, these types of virus have not been able to spread easily to other people. That’s why the current risk to the general public is low. 

However, there’s a possibility that avian flu viruses could change and gain the ability to spread easily between people. For that reason, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US Department of Agriculture, and other agencies closely monitor and investigate any instances of avian flu in animals that could infect people.

How does avian flu spread from birds and animals to people?

Birds and other animals infected with avian influenza shed the virus in their saliva, mucous and poop. People can become infected if the virus is breathed in or gets into a person’s eyes, nose or mouth. 

Infected dairy cattle also shed the virus in unpasteurized (raw) milk. Do not cook or eat uncooked or undercooked food products, such as unpasteurized (raw) milk, or raw cheeses.


Avian flu in birds and animals

Current situation

H5N1 avian flu has been spreading in wild birds around the world. It was first detected in the U.S. in January 2022. This avian flu virus has also infected domestic poultry, including commercial and backyard flocks, as well as wild and domestic mammals.

It was first identified in Washington State in a backyard flock in May 2022. For more information on the current activity across the country, please see USDA’s 2022 Detections of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza and CDC’s Bird Flu Current Situation Summary. Public health officials work closely with local, state, and federal partners to monitor bird flu in Washington.

How to stay safe if you’re around birds and wildlife

Wear recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) if you have direct or close (within six feet) contact with sick or dead wild and domesticated animals, their poop, or are in environments where there are sick or dead animals. 

Recommended PPE and how to safely remove it


Hunters should follow standard safety steps to avoid potential exposure to avian influenza and other viruses or bacteria. View DOH's Hunters' Fact Sheet.

Sick and dead wildlife

  • Avoid contact with wildlife and observe only from a distance.
  • Report sick/dead wildlife to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife through the WDFW online reporting form.
  • Report sick/dead domestic birds to the Washington State Department of Agriculture's Avian Health Program at 1-800-606-3056.