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Man. turkey farm quarantined with avian flu

A turkey breeding operation in Manitoba’s South Interlake region has been quarantined with an unspecified H5 strain of avian flu, though public officials don’t expect it will be a high-path strain, much less the infamous H5N1.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and provincial government confirmed Wednesday that the farm, in the Rural Municipality of Rockwood just northwest of Winnipeg, has “some” turkeys that have tested positive for an H5 strain of bird flu.

Further testing is underway to learn the flu virus’ subtype and pathogenicity, which refers to the severity of the illness it causes in birds. Assessment and lab analysis so far suggest it’s likely a low-pathogenic (“low-path”) virus, the agency said.

“There is no evidence this is the Asian strain of H5N1 influenza and it is considered highly unlikely it will be,” the provincial agriculture department said in a separate release. “There is no indication of any human illness.”

Nevertheless, in keeping with the usual protocol in such cases, all birds on the infected premises will be euthanized and disposed of, after which the CFIA said it will oversee the cleaning and disinfecting of the farm’s barns, vehicles, equipment and tools.

The CFIA will also run a “thorough epidemiological investigation, including tracing any recent movement of birds, bird products and equipment onto and off of the infected property.”

To try and prevent any potential spread of an avian flu virus, the CFIA has also put restrictions on the movement of poultry and poultry products within three kilometres of the infected premises.

Animal health and public health authorities from the province, as well as local poultry specialists and industry, are “actively collaborating” on the response to the appearance of the virus, and in supporting the affected producer, CFIA said.

As usual, the CFIA added, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and international trading partners will also be informed of the situation.

If the Rockwood cases are confirmed as “low-path,” Canada gets to keep its OIE status as free of “high-path” bird flu, which it regained in April 2008 after cleanup of an outbreak of H7N3 on a poultry farm near Regina Beach, Sask.

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

H5N1 since 2003 has killed a few hundred people overseas, generally through direct contact with infected birds or their fluids.

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