Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Found in Seals, Beachgoers Told to Avoid Contact with Wildlife

Washington State Officials Tell Beachgoers to Avoid Contact with Wildlife

If you live on the west coast and frequent the beach, you’re going to want to keep away from any and all wildlife for the foreseeable future. Keep your kids from poking around and keep your pets on a leash, because The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories recently tested three adult harbor seals in Puget Sound that were stranded on Marrowstone Island, finding that they were positive for the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 strain.

Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory had tested this back in August, but it wasn’t until the National Veterinary Services did some testing of their own that it was finally confirmed.

This is the first time HPAI had been discovered in any marine animals on the west coast. This has been discovered in birds, though. In fact, there has been an outbreak among seabirds that’s currently being investigated, resulting in the death of roughly 1,700 birds. The outbreak took place on Rat Island and Marrowstone Island.

None of the seal pups have tested positive for the virus, and it’s unlikely to affect the seal population any. There are thousands of seals living on the shores of Puget Sound, and the population is considered to be fairly healthy as of now.

This isn’t the first time seals have been diagnosed with influenza. Back in the 1970s, the virus had been found in harbor seals on the northeast side of the US. In the 1980s, it was detected in seals again, and in the 1990, there were cases of seals dying of pneumonia in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The disease had also killed seals outside of the United States, mainly countries such as Russia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

All in all, the seals should be relatively fine, if not a little sick. What we need to be wary of is its effect on both people and pets.

HPAI is considered a “zoonotic disease”, which means it has the potential to spread between people and animals. This also includes pets, so be wary of what your dog might be investigating on the beach. Risk of infection may be low, but it’s still high enough to warrant concern.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza is a disease that can be lethal to both people and pets. If you happen to find a seal or a wild bird of any kind, you should stay at least 100 yards away from it, no matter whether it’s alive or dead. If you find a sick, injured, or dead seal, call the West Coast Region Stranding Hotline at (866) 767-6114. Do not touch them. If you find sick or dead wild birds, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife asks that you report it using a form on their website. This is very important for these organizations to help track the spread of the virus, as it will keep both the animal and human population safer through their efforts.


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