Healthy birds to be euthanized as avian flu probe continues

Two more farms under quarantine, as officials respond to discovery of avian flu at poultry operations in Chilliwack and Abbotsford.

While officials work to determine if two newly quarantined farms have been affected by bird flu, one of the farms where the virus was first detected will have to euthanize many healthy birds.

While most of the 11,000 turkeys in the Abbotsford barn where the H5 influenza virus was detected have already died, healthy birds in three adjacent barns on the Abbotsford farm will also have to be killed, Dr. Jane Pritchard, chief veterinarian officer with the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, said Wednesday afternoon.

“Eleven thousand are affected, but more will have to die,” Pritchard said. “It’s a big impact to the families and the farms.

“It’s crippling for them.”

Compensation is available to the farmers affected, but it won’t fully cover the costs stemming from the flu both for the poultry farms where the virus was found and dozens of nearby operations in what could be a three-kilometre surveillance zone around the affected sites.

The flu does not pose a substantial danger to humans, even those who come in direct contact with it, officials say. And as Asian countries place restrictions on poultry imports from Canada, the BC Poultry Association (BCPA) is stressing that eating poultry products poses no risk.

“It’s safe to eat turkeys, chickens and eggs,” said BCPA president Ray Nickel. Birds heading to market from farms within the surveillance zone will be tested for the virus, he said.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) confirmed that H5 avian influenza had been found at a turkey farm on the Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford and a broiler breeder chicken farm in Chilliwack following a large number of bird deaths at the two sites over the weekend.

By Wednesday afternoon, most of the 11,000 turkeys that had come in contact with the virus had died. Of the 7,000 chickens affected, 1,000 had died by Tuesday. The rest will be destroyed, officials have said, as will birds in adjacent barns.

“The present mortality does tell us it is a very virulent virus,” the CFIA’s chief veterinary officer, Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, said at a teleconference Wednesday at which it was announced that two new Fraser Valley Farms had been placed under quarantine as tests are being done to determine whether birds there have been infected by the H5 influenza virus.

One of the farms is located in Abbotsford, the other is in Chilliwack and  both received birds last Friday from the Chilliwack chicken farm where avian influenza was discovered earlier this week.

Officials say they haven’t confirmed the flu’s presence at the two broiler breeder chicken farms, and only one has seen higher-than-expected mortality numbers in recent days. The number of birds affected or on site at the two farms is not yet known.

Further testing is underway to determine the strain of the influenza and its pathogenicity (the severity of the illness in birds), but given the high mortality rate of birds affected, Pritchard said officials are treating it as if it was a high path strain.

It’s not yet known how the virus made its way onto the original affected farms.

Pritchard said that when the birds were brought in for testing on Monday, there were no visible signs of flu on the birds and tests for influenza were only conducted as a matter of protocol. She said officials suspected a bird management or a feed problem had led to the death and were surprised when the influenza test came back positive.

Despite the quarantine around the two new farms, Pritchard said she is confident that the virus will be contained before it does substantial damage.

She said the industry has learned from past experiences with animal diseases, including the 2004 avian flu outbreak that led to the slaughter of 17 million birds in the Fraser Valley.

“We are responding and doing what’s necessary very quickly,” she said. “I am even more confident [than yesterday] that we are going to be able to control this.”

At its East Abbotsford location, the CFIA has established a joint emergency operations centre, with officials from both the provincial and federal governments working together to contain the virus. Pritchard said personnel have poured into the centre in recent days to the point where they are running out of space.

Also on Wednesday, several Asian countries announced restrictions on the importation of poultry products.

Hong Kong announced that it had banned poultry meat and eggs from the Fraser Valley following the discovery of avian flu at farms in Chilliwack and Abbotsford.

The city’s Centre for Food Safety (CFS) announced Wednesday that it had banned poultry products “from the district with immediate effect for the protection of Hong Kong’s public health.”

The CFS said in a press release that it imported more than 7,000 tonnes of frozen poultry meat and about 170,000 eggs from Canada between January and October.

“The CFS has contacted the Canadian authority over the issue and will closely monitor information issued by the World Organization for Animal Health on avian influenza outbreak in the country,” it said in a release. “Appropriate action will be taken in response to the development of the situation.”

Hong Kong has also recently banned poultry products from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom following avian flu outbreaks in those countries, according to the website

Reuters has also reported that South Korea has banned imports of Canadian chicks, Japan has banned the importation of B.C. chicks, and Taiwan has imposed restrictions on B.C. poultry products.

The CFIA said avian flu does not “pose risks to food safety when poultry and poultry products are properly handled and cooked” and that the disease rarely affects humans not in contact with afflicted birds.

The turkeys were at an age at which they would likely have been destined for Christmas dinner tables.

Watch for more information as it becomes available.

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