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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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County fairs cancel live poultry shows to avoid bird flu

For those who enjoy strolling through the animal barns at the Spokane County Interstate Fair, something will be missing this year.

Under the advice of the state veterinarian, some county fairs in Washington, including Spokane’s, have suspended their poultry exhibits and events amid a national outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Stevens, Lincoln and Whitman counties also will join the Washington State Fair and others across the state in canceling their live poultry shows.

Instead, the Spokane County Interstate Fair, which runs Sept. 9-18, will have alternative events: Youth participants can compete in a cage decorating contest and bring in photos of their birds for market sales, which are mostly turkeys.

“We’re going to follow the guidance of the state veterinarian and keep the poultry industry safe,” fair coordinator Jessica McLaughlin said.

The Palouse Empire Fair, Sept. 8-11 in Colfax, will hold a closed poultry judging prior to the fair just for those entrants who still want to participate, fair manager Janel Goebel said.

And the Washington State Fair, which opens this weekend in Pullayup, has canceled its open class poultry show, but will still hold an open pigeon competition and display educational materials on poultry, the fair’s public relations manager Stacey Van Horne said.

Washington State Veterinarian Amber Itle released an advisory recommending the suspension of poultry exhibitions until 30 days after the last case of the H5N1 strain of the bird flu is detected in the state. (New cases have been detected in Washington as recently as Aug. 26, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.)

The recommendation is not a rule. However, the advisory said, “the risk of commingling birds is significant and could result in the death of all birds that attend an event.”

The biggest risk factor is direct contact with wild waterfowl, and bird owners should protect their flocks. “The fall avian migration is starting, meaning we’re likely to see more bird flu cases throughout the state again,” Itle said in a statement.

The virus has been detected in 414 domestic flocks in 39 states, according to USDA data. In Washington, there have been 34 flocks affected, all backyard noncommercial. It was detected in Spokane County in May.

The virus has also been detected in 2,116 wild birds across the country, including one in Stevens County and two in Spokane County, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One case of human infection was reported in Colorado in April. Transmission to humans is rare and risk to the general public remains low, the CDC said.

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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