SALT LAKE CITY — Dr. Warren Hess, acting state veterinarian with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, has warned that Utah’s backyard bird owners as well as the state’s commercial turkey, chicken and egg industry, valued at $150 million, are at risk of having their flocks infected with avian influenza, reported the Deseret News.

The most common symptom among birds, according to Hess, is "sudden death," he added.

Avian influenza has already hit Idaho, California, Oregon and Washington, with devastating affects, Hess said. As a result, the state agricultural agency, five commercial producers in Utah and the Moroni turkey plant is on high alert after one wild duck shot by a hunter in Davis County was recently determined to be infected.

Although waterfowl carry the bug, they are not affected. Thus, the risk is the transmission of the avian influenza to domesticated birds and poultry. This strain, however, is not transmitted to humans.
Given the highly pathogenic nature of the disease, the single case discovered in Davis County is cause for alarm, Hess said. Commercial producers have already increased their biosecurity precautions. Much of the onus to prevent a spread of this influenza now lies with hobbyists and smaller poultry producers.
In 1983, an outbreak caused the deaths of approximately 17 million chickens, turkeys and guinea fowl in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Managing the outbreak cost approximately $65 million and led to egg price hikes of more than 30 percent.

Hess strongly advised strict segregation between poultry and other bird species. Utah poultry is particularly vulnerable because the state is a rest stop along the migratory Pacific flyway for millions of birds, and incidental contact would not be out of the ordinary, he added. To increase public awareness, the agency is launching a public education campaign to help backyard bird owners reduce their risk. A webinar is also planned on Feb. 25 from noon to 1 pm in conjunction with Utah State Univ.