Rising cases of bird flu across Canada have killed dozens of chickens and turkeys, devastated poultry farmers and Canada’s top veterinarian has serious concerns for weeks to come.
In less than a week, the H5N1 strain of bird flu has spread to three commercial poultry farms in southern Ontario, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
These cases were confirmed after a red-tailed hawk in Waterloo Region, Ontario was found with bird flu 10 days ago.
The CFIA placed these three Ontario farms under strict quarantine and established a 10-kilometre control zone to limit animal movement. He also helped nearby farms put in place enhanced biosecurity measures to control the spread of the virus.
Dr Mary-Jane Ireland, CFIA’s chief veterinarian, expressed concern for the coming days as it is the migration season for many wild birds which can spread the disease.
Avian flu found on second southern Ontario farm: CFIA
“It’s a pretty devastating disease,” Ireland said in an interview.
“We are concerned this is a high risk time and the birds are migrating. We have detected it in Canada and more recently in Ontario…and that is why we are asking people to take precautions.
Avian flu outbreaks have led 24 countries to temporarily ban imports of birds or poultry products from parts of Canada and, in some cases, the entire country, the CFIA said, although a group many agricultural stakeholders noted that Canada’s poultry production is largely for domestic purposes. .
The risk to the general public is low. Bird flu is not a significant public health issue for humans, Ireland said, nor is food safety an issue.
The impact on farms, however, can be severe.
Bird flu started spreading on commercial farms in Europe last year, then hit the United States. It was confirmed in Canada on December 22, 2021, with the CFIA saying it was detected at a display farm on the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The virus was then found on January 11 in a small herd on the same peninsula. The agency tracked him to two commercial farms in Nova Scotia in February and to a flock of ducks and backyard chickens in March.
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Avian flu was first detected at a farm near Guelph, Ont., last Sunday. He was later found at a farm near London, Ont., on Monday and at another farm in Woolwich, Ont., on Wednesday.
The H5N1 virus is highly contagious, Ireland explained.
Avian flu discovered on a poultry farm in southern Ontario
“Infected birds can shed the virus in their saliva, natal secretions and feces,” she said. “And it can spread through contact with surfaces.”
These surfaces can include shoes, litter, litter and water, she said.
Anyone who has birds should keep them away from wild birds; frequently clean poultry houses, water, feeders and clothing; and controlling what goes in and out of a chicken coop or barn, Ireland said.
Wild migratory waterfowl are the main reservoir of the bird flu virus, she said.
“We believe these birds introduced the disease to the area,” Ireland said. “And wild birds are migrating right now.”
The virus can also be introduced to farms from contaminated manure and contaminated bedding, she said.
Anyone seeing wild birds showing neurological symptoms, or farms seeing sudden bird deaths, should contact the CFIA or a local veterinarian, Ireland said.
The Feather Board Command Center, a group of poultry farmers and members of the feed, processing and service industries, is helping respond to such emergencies, said its president, Ingrid DeVisser.
“There’s a lot of stress for farmers, not just in infected premises, but in control areas right now,” DeVisser said.
Since much of southern Ontario is part of a natural flight zone for migrating waterfowl, she said more outbreaks are expected.
“Farmers around the world should be very aware of what is happening and be extremely vigilant on their farms with their biosecurity measures, whether they are commercial farms or backyard farms.
The council is helping affected farmers take cleanup action and helping them navigate documents related to CFIA and insurance companies after avian flu was discovered in their flocks.
She said all farmers, not just those in the control area, should use dedicated clothing and boots when going to areas where birds are kept, using hair nets, masks, hand sanitizers and lots of cleaning.
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Lisa Bishop-Spencer, spokeswoman for the Feather Board Command Centre, said Canada does not export much poultry, so temporary import bans following outbreaks are not having a significant impact.
“The Canadian poultry and egg sector is a supply managed sector, which means it primarily supplies the domestic market,” she said.
Ontario has recommended that owners of small herds and other zoological institutions avoid attending shows, trades and sales at this time.
Feather Board’s DeVisser, who is also a turkey farmer in Bruce County, Ont., said she was constantly worried about the virus.
“We do everything we can to be as vigilant as possible on our farm,” she said. “Watching our birds, keeping them healthy and doing all we can.”
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