Ontario duck farm catches low-path avian flu

All the birds on a commercial duck farm in southern Ontario’s Niagara region are about to be euthanized after some were confirmed with a less severe form of avian flu.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on Thursday said the strain of avian influenza found in the birds on the farm is a low-pathogenic (“low-path”) H5 subtype. The agency said it would run further tests to pin down the virus’ exact strain and subtype in the next few days.

The farm, near St. Catharines, Ont., is now under quarantine, CFIA said, and the agency plans to set up a disease surveillance zone for further testing and movement control measures.

Once euthanized, the birds will be disposed of, CFIA said. The agency will then oversee the cleaning and disinfection of the farm’s barns, vehicles, equipment and tools. The provincial government will provide “technical support” on the carcass disposal, CFIA said.

CFIA, the province, the birds’ owner and the poultry industry are “working closely together to manage the situation,” the agency said. Ontario’s Feather Board Command Centre said Thursday it has advised all poultry growers to put “heightened biosecurity measures” in place.

H5 and H7 strains of avian flu are considered reportable diseases in Canada, and all cases must be reported to the CFIA and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Low-path H5 and H7 strains were decreed reportable diseases in Canada starting in 2012.

Where high-path strains of avian flu lead to severe symptoms and deaths among affected birds, low-path strains cause few symptoms — such as mild respiratory effects, reduced egg production and ruffled feathers — if any.

Outbreaks of low-path H5 and H7 strains are monitored, quarantined and eradicated mainly out of concern that the viruses may mutate into high-path strains. On rare occasions some strains, such as the high-path H5N1 strain present in Asia, can cause illness in people.

Avian flu, however, does not pose a risk to food safety when poultry and poultry products are properly handled and cooked, CFIA emphasized.

Canada’s most recent high-path outbreaks were last year on farms in British Columbia and southern Ontario. The country has been considered free of notifiable avian influenza since October.

Trading partners such as the U.S. usually restrict imports of poultry and poultry products from countries with avian flu, but only in cases involving a high-path outbreak.

Other countries, however, have been known to impose restrictions on Canadian poultry and related products citing a low-path outbreak, as seen in Manitoba in 2010. — AGCanada.com Network

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