Canada bird flu-free once more

Three months of surveillance work in Manitoba’s Interlake region have restored Canada’s status as fully free of notifiable avian flu.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency on Thursday reported the end of “targeted, enhanced surveillance” in the area where a turkey breeding operation was confirmed last November to have birds with low-severity avian influenza H5N2.

No new cases were detected during the three months since the turkey farm in the RM of Rockwood was depopulated, cleaned and disinfected, CFIA said Thursday.

The turkeys in question were Manitoba’s first-ever on-farm cases of notifiable avian flu.

The Rockwood farm’s birds were all destroyed as of Nov. 29 and disposed of, while other nearby farms subject to quarantine all tested negative for the strain. The last of those other farms, a hatchery operation, saw its quarantine lifted Dec. 23 after it was “depopulated” of eggs and poults.

The “low-path” confirmation in November allowed Canada to keep its World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) status as free of “high-path” bird flu, which it regained in April 2008 after cleanup of an outbreak of high-path H7N3 on a poultry farm near Regina Beach, Sask.

Thursday’s status upgrade for Canada is based on OIE standards for surveillance following an avian flu outbreak, CFIA said.

Bird flu can be devastating on an affected commercial poultry farm, but human health experts’ concern is that a “high-path” strain such as the infamous H5N1 could mutate or combine with another flu virus, such as H1N1, that could spread more easily between people.

Avian flu is not a food safety risk when poultry and poultry products are properly handled and cooked.

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