With highly contagious and deadly avian influenza spreading among poultry birds in Canada, government officials are tracking cases in 12 farms so far in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as additional probable cases in Alberta and Quebec.
“In Canada, avian influenza is a very serious issue. It creates mortality in birds and inhibits producers’ ability to export their flocks,” said Craig Price, who heads the response to avian influenza at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. are leading. The federal government body that regulates poultry farming in the country.
“The impact on the Canadian poultry industry is significant, exporting about $800 million per year to various markets. We see, every time we have an infected compound, there is a loss of exports from those producing areas. “
Right now the most affected area is in southern Ontario, where cases have been found in six farms. Farms with cases have been abandoned, but strict movement controls have also been put in place at countless other farms within 10 kilometers, Price said, disrupting industry in a large area.
where is the flu coming from
Cases have been linked to exposure to wild birds, and Price says they may increase as birds migrate north from the US to Canada during the spring. There have been 130 outbreaks in 24 states in the US
A swan, duck, red-tailed hawk and red-breasted mermaid have tested positive for the strain in Ontario in recent weeks. The strain was also detected in geese in Canada and two snow geese in Quebec.
Price says that depending on what is happening in the US, avian flu is likely to spread to every province in Canada.
While the impact on birds is severe, it is rare for the current type of avian influenza, H5N1, to infect humans. Samira Mubareka, a physician at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center and virologist at the University of Toronto, says vigilance is the key to making sure any human cases are caught early.
“There hasn’t really been continuous person-to-person transmission and there are no human cases,” she said. “But then again, you don’t want to miss the first one.”
monitor human health
This means that in areas where there are cases of avian flu, health workers should check whether people with flu symptoms have had contact with birds and ensure that they are tested for the H5N1 strain. Is.
“I think the most important thing is just to be vigilant, make sure people are aware of it, so they ask the right questions about exposure,” Mubareka said.
Mubareka said the virus can infect a person if they come in very close contact with an infected bird. But it has to mutate to spread from person to person.
A person cannot become infected by eating chicken or other cooked poultry birds. Mubareka said all standard precautions were sufficient to properly handle and cook the meat.
The COVID-19 pandemic can have both positive and negative consequences for tracking the spread of avian influenza. Mubareka said that because of his experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, the public health system will probably be more confident about how to respond if cases emerge in humans. At the same time, health workers are pulled up.
“I think it can stress really tight resources,” Mubareka said. “But in terms of preparedness, in some ways we are better.”
closing the fields
Karen Woolley runs Woolly Wonderland Farms in Lakehurst, Ont. Her farm has hundreds of birds, including chickens, and all of them are currently being kept indoors for their safety.
Another nearby farm at Woolly’s farm has strict movement restrictions due to avian flu cases.
“I nicknamed this ‘chicken COVID,’ even though it’s not COVID,” Woolley said.
“It’s like closing a farm to chickens, shutting down a farm from guests, which we don’t want to do. We have to do this to sustain our livelihood.”
Woolly usually takes her animals outdoors to visit senior citizens’ homes, schools, fairs and other events. This year, she says she’s taken the chickens out of the mix. Her dogs are also being deputed to chase down any migratory birds that may land on the farm.
She is restricting visitors to her farm, and anyone entering the barn where the birds are kept has to change into new shoes if they step outside in bird droppings from infected birds. .
“We’re hoping we’re going to get through this,” Woolley said.
“We’re hoping it won’t attack a lot of farms and that doing those diligent things to maintain biosecurity will keep everyone safe.”
With files from Katie Nicholson and Simon Dingley.