‘Unprecedented’ year for avian flu in Canada, B.C. vet says

By The Canadian Press and Hana Mae Nassar

B.C.’s chief veterinarian says it has been an “unprecedented” year for avian flu, with more than 200 flocks and about 3.5-million birds Canada-wide infected so far in 2022.

While this pales in comparison to other devastating eruptions of the disease — such as a 2004 outbreak that prompted a cull of 17-million birds — Theresa Burns says the current H5N1 strain is problematic because it is “behaving very differently” to previous variants.

“The scale is completely different. All those other outbreaks, B.C. was the only province impacted and it was only in the Fraser Valley. Now, we’re seeing all across Canada, North America, and Europe impacted, and we’re seeing detections in every province across Canada,” she explained.

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The current virus strain is highly pathogenic and can cause serious disease and death in birds.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) says migratory birds are responsible for the outbreaks in small and commercial poultry flocks.

Ray Nickel, a spokesperson for the BC Poultry Association Emergency Operations Centre, says farmers are now worried the virus is becoming endemic in wild bird populations. However, he notes one benefit is that it has prompted more co-ordination between farmers and various levels of government.

“Now we have a regional presence with talking to CFIA and … before we would just have a provincial discussion. Now we also have a national forum where we talk with CFIA on issues that are of common concern to all the provinces,” he said.

In B.C., the CFIA says 28 flocks, with 275,700 birds, have been infected by the virus so far this year.

The CFIA says H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) is not a food safety concern, adding “there is no evidence to suggest that eating cooked poultry or eggs could transmit HPAI to humans.”

It adds on rare occasions, avian influenza viruses may cause disease in humans.

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