Two Fraser Valley farms quarantined with H5 avian flu

(Scott Bauer photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

Federal officials have quarantined a turkey farm and a broiler breeder farm in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley after both were confirmed with outbreaks of an H5 strain of avian influenza.

The quarantines, announced Tuesday, follow death losses of “over half” of the 11,000 birds at the turkey farm near Abbotsford, and of about 1,000 of the 7,000 birds on the broiler operation near Chilliwack.

That said, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is now running further tests to confirm the pathogenicity of the virus in question — that is, whether the virus is “high-path” or “low-path” in terms of the severity of illness it causes in birds.

The tests, which are to be completed “within days,” are also expected to confirm the subtype and strain of the virus.

A turkey farm near Abbotsford was the site of an outbreak of “low-path” H5N2 avian flu in 2009; farms in the Fraser Valley previously endured a costly avian flu outbreak in 2004. Canada has been considered free of “high-path” avian flu since an outbreak of H7N3 in birds at a southern Saskatchewan poultry farm in 2008.

While officials plan to look for any possible connection between the two farms, sited several kilometres apart on opposite sides of the Vedder River, none has yet been found, B.C.’s chief veterinary officer Dr. Jane Pritchard said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon.

Surviving birds at both operations will be humanely euthanized, after which all of both farms’ birds will be composted and removed, officials said. Both farms’ barns, vehicles, equipment and tools are then to be cleaned and disinfected.

Initial tests for avian flu were run Monday at the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture’s lab at Abbotsford, after both operations “experienced sudden deaths of birds over the weekend,” CFIA said Tuesday in a release.

The turkeys on the Abbotsford farm were 83 days old, and thus “would have been targeted for the Christmas (dinner) market,” Pritchard said.

“Precautionary measures”

CFIA, now the lead response agency in this case, said it will “ensure the quarantine of the infected farms, and determine a surrounding surveillance zone for further testing.”

The province, CFIA, the farms’ owners and industry groups are “working closely together to manage the situation,” CFIA said, and both levels of government “will work with the poultry industry to address issues as they emerge.”

Canada’s poultry sector “currently practices a high level of biosecurity that reduces the risk of disease spread,” CFIA said.

Avian flu viruses do not pose risks to food safety when poultry and poultry products are properly handled and cooked, CFIA emphasized in its release Tuesday. Avian flu “rarely” affects humans who do not have consistent contact with infected birds, the agency noted.

Federal public health officials in January reported an Alberta woman died of H5N1 after she returned from a visit to Beijing, marking the first and only human case of the virus to date in this country. Public health authorities “stand ready to take precautionary measures as warranted,” CFIA said Tuesday.

In areas of high pressure for avian flu, human health experts have long expressed concern that a strain such as H5N1 may mutate or combine with a human flu virus that could spread more easily among people.

CFIA’s chief veterinary officer Dr. Harpreet Kochhar said on Tuesday’s call that the agency has shared the information it has on this week’s outbreak so far with federal veterinary officials in the U.S.  — Network




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