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Man. turkey farm’s bird flu is “low-path” H5N2

Manitoba’s first cases of notifiable avian flu have turned out, as predicted, to be a type low in severity and not the notorious H5N1 strain.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed Thursday that the virus found in birds on a commercial turkey breeding farm in the province’s South Interlake region is low-pathogenic (“low-path”) H5N2 avian influenza.

According to a report released Thursday from CFIA through the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the closest matches in GenBank, a U.S.-based DNA database, are to North American H5N2 viruses from wild birds.

But in keeping with protocol in such cases, the quarantine imposed on the farm in the Rural Municipality of Rockwood northwest of Winnipeg still stands, as does the quarantine on a local hatchery and two poultry operations that had “significant contact” with the turkey farm.

As per the CFIA’s “stamping out” policy 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.

According to the OIE report, this disease event includes 3,000 cases among 7,400 “susceptible” birds.

CFIA will also run an epidemiological investigation tracing recent movement of birds, bird products and equipment onto and off of the Rockwood farm.

To try and prevent any potential spread of the virus, CFIA has also restricted movements of poultry and poultry products within three kilometres of the infected premises.

Avian flu viruses pose no risks to food safety when poultry products are properly handled and cooked, CFIA emphasized Thursday. Avian influenza rarely affects people, unless they are of specific types caught through close contact with infected birds.

With the Rockwood flu type confirmed, 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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