N.S. chicken farmers worry about spread of avian flu
Chicken farmers in Nova Scotia are concerned about the threat of avian influenza — also known as bird flu — after cases of the disease were discovered in a backyard flock in Port Maitland.
The outbreak in the small flock in southwestern Nova Scotia reported last weekend is the first detection of the disease in poultry in almost a year and the second that has been detected in the province in nearly a year.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the flock of about 20 birds has been killed. The previous detection was of avian influenza in a commercial poultry operation in Nova Scotia was in March 2022.
Amy VanderHeide, the chair of the Chicken Farmers of Nova Scotia, said on Information Morning on Thursday that farmers are concerned about the possibility of widespread bird flu in the aftermath of the most recent outbreak.
"We know that that's going to bring an influx of avian influenza with it, so we're keeping a very close eye on things," VanderHeide said.
The coming spring months are critical, she added, as the disease can follow migratory pathways that are travelled by birds that are flying across countries during the warmer months.
VanderHeide said bird flu is often carried by geese and other waterfowl, like ducks and swans. Kings County happens to be the home of a large part of the province's poultry industry, she said, so an outbreak there would impact the industry across Nova Scotia.
Now, the focus is on biosecurity measures, VanderHeide said. Those include keeping entryways disinfected, changing clothes when moving between farms and keeping wild birds out of commercial flocks.
The CFIA say some symptoms of avian flu to look for include:
a drop in production of eggs, many of which are soft-shelled or have no shells.
haemorrhages on the hock.
high and sudden mortality rate.
quietness and extreme depression.
swelling of the skin under the eyes.
wattles and combs become swollen and congested.
Labs in Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick are equipped to test for the infection and can provide results in one to two days or more, depending on the lab's capacity.
"When there is a suspected case of avian influenza, every hour counts," she said. "It's a very fast-moving virus, so every hour that we're waiting for those tests, [is] an hour that we could be doing further things to reduce the spread."
Long waits for test results are why chicken farmers in the province are calling on the province to improve testing in Nova Scotia — something that would involve upgrading labs that currently exist to improve wastewater and ventilation systems, among other changes.
There's also a need to hire accredited lab staff that are trained to diagnose infections, she said.
VanderHeide said with the growing concerns about spread to commercial flocks, it's not enough for testing needs in Nova Scotia to be met by labs outside of the province, especially considering testing priority depends on capacity and urgency.
"It's really just trying to find out where we're supposed to go with this and who can support this initiative and get us what we need to react faster," VanderHeide said.
Earlier this week, the provincial Liberals also made a call for flu testing in Nova Scotia.
"The current system involves sending samples out-of-province, sometimes as far as Guelph, Ontario or Winnipeg, Manitoba, resulting in long wait times for results and greater disruptions to farm operations," the statement reads.
"New Brunswick had their Fredericton lab certified last year. Newfoundland and PEI have plans to ensure their own testing capacity. The introduction of a lab in Nova Scotia would mean a quicker turnaround for diagnosis and any safety protocols to follow."
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