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'Be extremely cautious': Farmers, farmers concerned over rising outbreak of bird flu | Health

'Be extremely cautious': Farmers, farmers concerned over rising outbreak of bird flu | Health
'Be extremely cautious': Farmers, farmers concerned over rising outbreak of bird flu | Health

'Be extremely cautious,' say farmers, who are concerned about a rising outbreak of bird flu!

Rising cases of bird flu across Canada have left many chickens and turkeys dead, devastated poultry farmers, and Canada's top veterinarians are seriously worried about the coming weeks.

In less than a week, the H5N1 strain of avian influenza has spread to three commercial poultry farms in southern Ontario, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Those cases were confirmed after a red-tailed hawk in Waterloo, Ont., was diagnosed with bird flu 10 days earlier.

The CFIA has placed those three Ontario farms under strict quarantine and established a 10-kilometer containment zone to limit the movement of animals.  It has also helped nearby farms enhance biosecurity measures to control the spread of the virus.

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CFIA Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mary-Jane Ireland said she was concerned about the coming days as it is the migration season of many wild birds that can spread disease.

"It's quite a devastating disease," Ireland said in an interview.

“We are worried, this is a high-risk period, and the birds are migrating.  We have detected this in Canada and more recently in Ontario ... and so we are asking people to take precautions."

The bird flu outbreak has led 24 countries to temporarily ban the importation of birds or poultry products from parts of Canada and in some cases from across the country, the CFIA said, although an agricultural stakeholder group noted that Canada  The poultry production is largely for domestic purposes.  

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The risk to the general public is low.  Bird flu is not a significant public health concern to humans, Ireland said, and food security is also not an issue.

However, the impact on agricultural operations could be severe.

Avian flu began knocking through commercial farms in Europe last year and then entered the United States.  Confirmed in Canada on December 22, 2021, the CFIA said it was found at an exhibition farm on the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland and Labrador.

On January 11, the virus was found in a small swarm on the same peninsula.  The agency found it again in February at two commercial farms in Nova Scotia and a backyard duck and chicken flock in March.

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Bird flu was first detected last Sunday at a farm near Guelph, Ont.  It was then found on Monday at a farm near London, Ont., and on Wednesday at another farm in Woolwich, Ont.

The H5N1 virus is highly contagious, Ireland explained.

"Infected birds can shed the virus in their saliva, their birth secretions, and their feces," she said.  "And it can be spread by contact with surfaces."

She said those surfaces could include shoes, litter, bedding, and water.

Whoever has birds, he should keep them away from wild birds;  Clean the poultry coop, water, feeder and clothing frequently;  And control what goes in and out of the coop or barn, Ireland said.

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He said that wild migratory aquatic birds are the major reservoir of bird flu virus.

"We think these birds may have brought the disease to the region," Ireland said.  "And the wild birds are migrating right now."

He said that the virus can also be brought into the fields by contaminated manure and contaminated garbage.

Ireland said that anyone who sees wild birds showing neurological symptoms, or sudden bird deaths in farms, should contact the CFIA or a local veterinarian.

The Feather Board Command Center, a group of poultry farmers and members of the feed, process and service industries, helps deal with such emergencies, said its president, Ingrid Daviser.

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“There is a lot of stress on farmers, not only in the infected premises, but also in the containment areas,” Daviser said.

With much of southern Ontario a natural flight zone for migrating aquatic birds, she said more outbreaks are expected.

“Farmers everywhere need to be very aware of what is happening and be extremely vigilant with their biosecurity measures on their farms, whether they are commercial farms or backyard farms.

The board is helping affected farmers with clean-up measures and helping them navigate the paperwork associated with CFIA and insurance companies after bird flu is found in their flock.

He said that all farmers, not just those in containment zones, should use dedicated clothing and footwear, using hair nets, masks, hand sanitizers and a lot of sanitisation.

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Feather Board Command Center spokeswoman Lisa Bishop-Spencer said Canada doesn't export much poultry, so the temporary import ban as a result of the outbreak is not having a significant effect. 

“The Canadian poultry and eggs sector is a supply-managed sector, which means it caters primarily to the domestic market,” she said.

Ontario recommends that small flock owners and other zoological institutions avoid participating in shows, swaps and sales at this time.

Daviser of The Feather Board, who is also a turkey farmer in Bruce County, Ont., said he is constantly concerned about the virus.

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"We're doing our best to be as vigilant as we can on our farm," she said.  "Watching our birds, keeping them healthy and doing everything we can."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 31, 2022.

Sources: Liam Casey, The Canadian Press, Seaway News, Direct News 99