WSU WADDL is site for latest avian influenza testing

By Charlie Powell, College of Veterinary Medicine

henPULLMAN, Wash. – Animal disease authorities both nationally and in Washington were already on high alert when in early December a large wild duck die-off occurred in northwest Washington.

The event was soon under investigation by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The alertness and quick response were part of the multiagency disease surveillance vigilance that comes with knowing British Columbia, Canada, had begun dealing with an outbreak of HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza), strain H5N2, earlier this fall.

On Dec. 9, samples from the ducks were tested for avian influenza (AI) at the Washington State University Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Puyallup, Wash. (WADDL-Puyallup). Results were presumptive positive for a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus.

The “highly pathogenic” designation means it was an influenza virus capable of causing severe disease and high mortality in domestic poultry.

On Dec. 11, a privately owned falcon from the same region was submitted by its owner to WADDL-Puyallup for cause-of-death determination. Based upon its history of being legally fed wild duck meat, testing for AI was initiated immediately. Within hours, results were presumptive positive for two indicators of HPAI.

By protocol, additional samples from both cases were expedited to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratory (NVSL) in Ames, Iowa, for confirmatory testing and further virus characterization.

Independently, samples were received by the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) in Madison, Wis. On Dec. 14, the falcon was confirmed positive for the H5N8 strain of AI, or HPAI H5N8.

Almost simultaneously with the identification of HPAI in the falcon, a wild duck from the same geographical region of Washington was confirmed positive for HPAI H5N2.

Immediately after the confirmation of HPAI in Washington, the USDA, Washington State Department of Agriculture, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Health and WSU WADDL collaborated with others to establish a pre-planned incident command structure and an aggressive enhanced surveillance program for AI.

On Dec. 18, WSU WADDL-Pullman began receiving samples for HPAI testing in its Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) testing laboratories, a core lab in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

WADDL’s experienced and highly trained laboratory staff use state-of-the-art equipment to conduct high throughput testing, meaning large volumes of samples and the shortest turnaround times.  Combined with its information technology expertise and nationally standardized procedures, WADDL can effectively and safely conduct HPAI testing.

It is expected that surveillance testing will continue for months and include analysis of perhaps thousands of samples.  Should the situation worsen, WADDL and its partner laboratories in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network are prepared to handle whatever testing loads may arise. WADDL is also working closely with both NVSL and the NWHC in further diagnostic testing and characterization.

Key information:
• On Dec.15, the USDA announced the presence of two strains of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild birds in Washington state.
• To date, both strains of HPAI are occurring ONLY in wild bird species in Washington.
• There is NO SIGN of the viruses in commercial poultry flocks.
• There is ALMOST NO RISK to human health as the disease has never been seen in people in the U.S.
• The many strains of AI occur commonly in wild birds worldwide and the disease risks are well known to both human and animal disease experts.

Important information links:
All bird owners, whether commercial producers or backyard enthusiasts, are encouraged to practice good biosecurity, prevent contact between their birds and wild birds, and report sick birds or unusual bird deaths to state/federal officials, either through the state veterinarian or through USDA’s toll-free number at 1-866-536-7593. Additional information on biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found at

Washington State Department of Agriculture
Persons seeing sickness in domestic birds are asked to contact the WSDA Avian Health Program at 1-800-606-3056. Sick and dead wild birds should be reported to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at 1-800-606-8768. If you are concerned about sickness in yourself or your family, please contact Washington State Department of Health at 1-800-525-0127. See and

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife
Kristin Mansfield, WDFW Veterinarian, 509-892-1001, ext. 326, or cell 509-998-2023. See


Charlie Powell, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine public information officer, call or text 509-595-2017,