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B.C. bird flu is H5N2, likely “low-path”

The avian influenza that led federal inspectors to cull, gas and compost about 60,000 birds on a Fraser Valley poultry farm in British Columbia is subtype H5N2, and likely low in pathogenicity.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency reported Tuesday that tests at the National Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases in Winnipeg confirm the H5 bird flu virus detected on the farm is H5N2.

The agency also reiterated that preliminary tests at the outset of its investigation on Jan. 24 indicate this strain of bird flu is of low pathogenicity (“low-path”).

It’s thus likely that Canada will keep its status as free of “high-path” bird flu, which it’s held since April last year after the cleanup of an outbreak of H7N3 on a poultry farm near Regina Beach, Sask.

While bird flu, particularly high-path strains, can be devastating on an affected commercial poultry farm, the concern of human health experts is that a strain such as the notorious H5N1 may mutate or combine with a human flu virus that could spread more easily among people, spurring a pandemic.

H5N1 since 2003 has killed about 250 people overseas, generally through direct contact with infected birds or their fluids.

CFIA also reiterated that avian flu is “a disease of birds that does not cross easily from birds to infect humans.” Furthermore, the agency said, “there is no evidence to date that shows this strain poses any significant risk to human health.”

Quarantines continue as a “precautionary measure” on 36 properties near the Fraser Valley farm, CFIA said Tuesday. Of those, 26 are within a three-kilometre radius of the index farm. The remaining 10 are outside that radius but were identified for quarantine “as a result of the assessment of the movement of people, products and equipment through (CFIA’s) investigation.”

Poultry or poultry products being moved off quarantined premises must first be submitted for samples, test negative and be cleared by CFIA.

The agency is also encouraging poultry owners in the area are encouraged to “take an active role in protecting their flocks” and immediately report any signs of illness that could be consistent with avian influenza by calling 604-226-1753.

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