Avian Influenza

Avian influenza (bird flu) is a disease caused by infection with avian (bird) influenza (flu) Type A viruses. These viruses occur naturally in wild aquatic birds, but can also infect poultry (such as chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, domestic ducks, geese and guinea fowl) and other bird species, as well as wildlife and domestic animals. On rare occasions, bird flu viruses infect people and make them sick. This typically has only happened to people who have had close contact with avian influenza-infected birds or other animals or to environments where infected animals are or have been present.

Current events

A strain of H5N1 avian influenza has been circulating in wild birds around the world, first detected in the U.S. in January 2022. This avian influenza strain 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.

What's happened and where?

  • Highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 has been detected in Washington State since May 2022.
  • Both the CDC and USDA are providing updated information on positive detections of H5N1 across the country.
  • Statewide bird and other animal testing and monitoring by the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife occur as needed.

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

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

Bird flu infections in people are rare and most commonly occur after prolonged contact with infected birds or other animals while not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment.

How can my backyard birds spread flu?

Should I be concerned?

  • Although avian influenza is a highly contagious disease among birds, the risk of it spreading to people is very low.
  • The strain of H5N1 avian influenza circulating around the world since late 2021 is different than strains that caused H5N1 outbreaks in previous years. To-date, the current H5N1 strain circulating in birds does not appear to easily infect people.
  • Sporadic human cases infected with the currently circulating H5N1 strain have been reported worldwide. To-date, case patients report significant contact with infected birds or other animals, or with environments where these animals have been present prior to detection of H5N1 virus, and human-to-human transmission is not suspected.
  • People who have job-related contact with domestic or wild animals, or those who own poultry, livestock, or other animals should be aware of the risk of exposure to avian influenza so that they can take proper precautions and wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • As a precautionary measure, people who have had known contact with infected birds or other animals will be contacted by public health to discuss risk and symptom monitoring.

What can I do?

You should wear recommend personal protective equipment (PPE) if you have direct or close (within six feet) contact with sick or dead wild and domesticated animals, their feces, or anything in their environment or when entering any structures where there are sick or dead animals present. Do not prepare or eat uncooked or undercooked food or related uncooked food products, such as unpasteurized (raw) milk, or raw cheeses. 

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. Hunters' Fact Sheet (PDF)

Sick and Dead Wildlife

  • Avoid contact with wildlife and observe only from a distance.
  • Report sick/dead domestic birds to the Washington State Department of Agriculture's Avian Health Program: 1-800-606-3056.
  • Report sick/dead domestic animals to the Washington State Department of Agriculture through their online reporting form: https://fortress.wa.gov/agr/apps/rad/ 

You and Your Flock or Farm

How will I know about new information?

We will update our website with new health-related information as needed.

More information