Bird Flu in Canada Appears to be Slowing Down

Chicken, Rooster

The numbers of Canadian poultry farms impacted by the avian influenza outbreak appear to be slowing. The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain has been reported in all Canadian provinces except Prince Edward Island since it first appeared in Newfoundland back in December.

Nearly 80 Canadian farms have been hit, with almost two million birds euthanized since December. Both federal and provincial officials continue to urge poultry farms to maintain strict biosecurity measures. Animal health controls in place since mid-April prohibit movement of poultry for participation in shows, auctions, or agricultural fairs, with rules now extended until mid-June.

Pamela MacDonald, a Canadian Food Inspection Agency officer in southern Ontario, has just finished her rotation as a manager at the national response center. MacDonald says it’s too early yet to say that the spread has flat-lined, but with wild bird migrations winding down, the affected sites in regions most heavily-hit seems to be slowing.

“Alberta right now is sitting at 28, Ontario has 26 infected premises, and Saskatchewan is third with 12. What we’re hoping to see, once the spring migration ends, is a significant drop in the number of affected premises. I don’t want to say that it’s plateaued as of quite yet. Hopefully with the warmer temperatures, that’ll help hurry the migration and allow us to see things start to go on a downward trend.”

While this type of influenza does target birds, it is a zoonotic virus having been found in several other animals. MacDonald says transmission to humans is extremely rare, but that’s why such strict protocols are in place.

“The highly pathogenic avian influenza, H5N1, does seem to maintain itself in wild bird populations. Avian Influenza is a zoonotic disease, so we have seen some positive cases of H5N1 recently in fox kits, and we have seen it in dogs. It can be transmitted to humans, but it is rare. And so, that’s why we play close attention to this virus.”

Canada’s Health of Animals Act does compensate farm if an outbreak event results in property damage and flock euthanasia. Pamela MacDonald says compensation is based on several factors, and each case is evaluated separately.

“Under the Health of Animals Act, we do compensate the owners for animals and any affects that had to be destroyed. We actually explain this part of the process very early on. The compensation is based on the market-value up to the maximum amounts that are established by the compensation for the Destroyed Animals Regulation. We’ve got turkeys versus ducks versus chickens, laying hens and the value of the eggs, so many of them are very different. We work with the producer and independent evaluators to make sure that the producer is compensated fairly.”