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Sonoma County supervisors end avian flu emergency order

The Press Democrat - 6/4/2024

Jun. 4—The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to terminate the emergency proclamation it had enacted last December in response to an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu at local poultry and egg farms — a viral contagion the county now says resulted in a $20 million loss to businesses.

The proclamation, passed Dec. 5, had provided emergency assistance for county farms impacted by the outbreak.

At the time of enactment, the winter had brought the highly transmissible flu to one Sonoma County chicken farm and one duck farm, resulting in the enforced euthanasia of close to 300,000 birds. Following the proclamation, the virus struck another eight sites, necessitating the death of more than 900,000 animals, most of them in the rolling hills west of Petaluma.

The last recorded outbreak here was Jan. 3, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture'sAnimal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Commercial producers' quarantine periods have by now expired. And with repopulation and recovery plans underway, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner recommended supervisors terminate the emergency proclamation.

"The avian flu has devastated local poultry farmers," said David Rabbitt, chair of the Board of Supervisors, said in news release. "The avian flu has also had a tremendous impact on the production of local food, local feed suppliers, veterinarians, and the transportation sector. Now we turn to the recovery process and will continue to do everything possible to support our multigenerational family farmers."

Like viruses transmitted among humans, highly pathogenic avian flu tends to peak during the cold winter months and wane in warmer seasons. It generally spreads from migrating waterfowl to domesticated flocks along the major north-south flyways, including the Pacific Flyway that includes Sonoma County.

An investigative report produced jointly by the state and federal agriculture departments and released in late April cited several potential vectors for the cluster of cases in this county.

Those included a number of internal biosecurity lapses, including someone taking samples at two facilities — both of which turned up with positive tests — on the same day, and three infected farms sending eggs to be processed at a fourth. The report also left open the possibility that animal welfare activists had introduced the virus during incursions at a local duck farm in October and November.

Since the start of the global pandemic in the winter of 2021-22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has detected avian flu in more than 1,100 flocks in 48 U.S. states, resulting in the death of close to 100 million birds.

Recent cross-species transmission to dairy cattle has caused the destruction of milk products, but so far has not proved nearly as lethal to cows. Avian flu also has been detected in three people in the U.S., though both were believed to have mild symptoms. Elsewhere in the world, at least five people have died of highly pathogenic avian flu since the beginning of 2022.

Clinical signs of avian influenza in birds include sudden death; trouble breathing; clear runny discharge from the nose, mouth and eyes; lethargy; decreased food and water intake; swelling eyes, head, wattles or combs; discolored or bruised comb, wattles or legs; and stumbling, falling or a twisted neck.

Any unusual or suspicious dead wild birds should be reported to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Poultry owners with flocks that have experienced any unusual or suspicious illness or deaths should call the Sick Bird Hotline at (866) 922-BIRD (2473).

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or On X (Twitter) @Skinny_Post.


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