National poultry council says it's watching cases of bird flu in N.L. closely

·3 min read

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Poultry and egg processors across the country are stepping up monitoring and biosecurity measures after Canada's food safety watchdog confirmed cases of the H5N1 avian influenza at a Newfoundland exhibition farm.

The H5N1 bird flu hasn't been detected in Canada since 2015, according to a report on the outbreak from theWorld Organisation for Animal Health.

Jean-Michel Laurin, president of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council, said the situation is concerning but that so is any situation involving cases of avian influenza in the country.

"This is something we're very vigilant about," he said in an interview Thursday. Laurin said he was somewhat reassured by the news that the cases were not found at a commercial operation, but he said his members in the region are nonetheless taking extra biosecurity precautions.

"We've alerted the entire industry across Canada to heighten their vigilance, just to make sure we do everything we need to do to prevent this from spreading to commercial farms," he added.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Wednesday it had confirmed the presence of the H5N1 subtype of high pathogenic avian influenza at an unnamed "exhibition farm" on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula. Because the farm is not commercial and no other cases have been reported in the vicinity, Canada's status as "free from Avian Influenza" remains in place, the agency said.

As a precaution, the agency said it placed the farm under quarantine and established a 10-kilometre zone with movement control measures and enhanced biosecurity to limit the potential spread of the disease. No trade restrictions are expected.

A report on the outbreak from the World Organisation for Animal Health shows the cases involved "non-poultry" birds, "including wild birds." The documents indicates 360 birds were infected and died and that the remaining 59 were "killed and disposed of." The agency's website also includes reports on several outbreaks of H5N1 in Europe.

Earl Brown, a flu virologist at the University of Ottawa, said it's likely an infected waterfowl was blown across the North Atlantic to Newfoundland. He said he's not too concerned about the outbreak in the province, noting that decades of avian flus have ensured the bird farming industry is quite adept at catching and stamping out any spread.

"They have a zero-tolerance (policy) on the farms for avian influenza and highly pathogenic avian influenza," he said in an interview Thursday. As for concerns the virus will get into the local wild bird populations, he said that seemed unlikely, as the operation is small and not interconnected with a large-scale provincewide industry.

Matthew Miller, an associate professor at McMaster University specializing in infectious diseases, agreed there was cause for monitoring but not for alarm. He said the early alerts about the outbreak, as well as the prompt release of data about it, shows there is a robust monitoring system in place that's working well.

Miller said he sympathized with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador who woke up to news about the bird flu outbreak on the same day provincewide public health restrictions ramped up to curb the province's growing COVID-19 caseload. "When it rains it pours, right?" he said in an interview Thursday. "But as someone who has studied pandemics for their whole career, I wouldn't be terribly worried."

In an emailed statement Thursday, a spokesperson for the provincial department of agriculture said the government is supporting the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in its efforts to control the outbreak.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2021.

Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

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