Alaska’s first case of highly contagious bird flu strain confirmed in Mat-Su chickens

Baby chickens and a turkey await purchase. (Photo by Abbey Collins/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska’s first case of a highly pathogenic avian influenza strain has been confirmed. According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the virus case was in a non-commercial flock of chickens and ducks in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

The virus is highly contagious among birds. According to the CDC, over 35 million birds have been affected in more than 30 U.S. states, but the risk to people is low.

In a DEC release, State Veterinarian Dr. Robert Gerlach says the Mat-Su case confirms that migrating birds have brought avian influenza to Alaska.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service post says samples from Mat-Su flock were confirmed at the agency’s labs in Iowa. It also says state officials quarantined the affected premises, and birds on the property will be “depopulated to prevent the spread of the disease.”

Dr. Gerlach says the state is relying on bird owners to watch for and report signs of the illness, including nasal discharge, sneezing and coughing, respiratory distress or the sudden deaths of multiple birds.

Precautionary measures for bird owners include preventing contact with wild birds and ensuring the virus is not transmitted between domestic flocks on shoes, clothing or tools.

The CDC reported the first confirmed human case of the avian flu strain in the U.S. on Thursday — a person in Colorado who worked culling poultry infected with the virus. The CDC says the patient’s only reported symptom was fatigue for a few days and that the individual is being isolated and treated with an antiviral.

The CDC says it’s the second known human case of this specific group of H5 viruses. The first occurred in December 2021 in the United Kingdom. The agency says more than 880 human infections with earlier H5N1 viruses have been reported worldwide since 2003.

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