Avian flu outbreak prompts restrictions on domestic bird movement

Avian flu has now been found at five Fraser Valley poultry farms, including four in Abbotsford.

Trucks carrying carbon dioxide park outside a Fraser Valley poultry farm Monday.

The movement of domestic birds in all of southern British Columbia is now being restricted as officials work to quell an avian influenza outbreak that has prompted several countries, including the United States, to close their borders to local poultry products.

The virus has now been found at five Fraser Valley farms – two which produce turkeys and three which produce broiler breeder chickens.

Four of the farms are located in Abbotsford, including a 66,000-bird turkey farm where the virus was discovered late last week.

Around 80,000 birds at the first four farms where the virus was found have now either already died from the highly pathogenic H5N2 strain, or been euthanized. CFIA workers began euthanizing birds at the fifth farm Monday.

Seven countries have now imposed restrictions on Canadian poultry, including the United States and Mexico. Other jurisdictions, including the European Union, require documentation certifying poultry comes from a country free of avian influenza.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) says a “primary control zone” encompassing all of B.C. south of Prince George, has been established. The zone requires a permit to move any bird from a site within the zone. A stricter “restricted zone” will be set up in the Lower Mainland, with a boundary up to 10 kilometres away from the infected barns, which are all located in eastern Abbotsford and western Chilliwack.

Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, chief veterinary officer for the CFIA, said the restricted movement zones will both help prevent the further spread of the virus and make it more likely that countries will open their borders to poultry from other parts of Canada.

Officials stress that avian influenza poses little danger to humans, and that all poultry is safe when prepared correctly,

While officials have expressed confidence that the outbreak could be contained, they also sounded a note of warning Monday that the highly pathogenic H5N2 virus may turn up on more local farms.

“Avian influenza is highly contagious between birds and can spread rapidly,” said Kochar. “It is anticipated that additional at-risk farms may be identified in the coming days.”

While some have reported localized bird deaths in the Fraser Valley, Kochar said the CFIA’s surveillance had yet to turn up any cases of avian influenza in the wild.

Kochar said farmers or members of the public who suspect a bird may have, or may have died, from the virus call contact the CFIA. Contact info is available online at inspection.gc.ca.

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