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Avian flu is detected in HSL flock; Expo poultry show cancelled

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has confirmed that for the first time, a case of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been detected in the Haut-Saint-Laurent. It was found in a small poultry flock on May 3.

In response, the Quebec team for control of poultry diseases (EQCMA) has identified a 10-kilometre enhanced biosecurity zone that includes the town of Huntingdon and municipality of Elgin, as well as parts of Dundee, Godmanchester, and Hinchinbrooke. The Éleveurs de volailles du Québec is recommending that all poultry producers, and those in the industry, avoid travelling unnecessarily within this zone.

Seven infected premises have now been found in the province of Quebec since an initial case was identified on a commercial poultry farm on April 12 in the Val-Saint-François region. Areas with confirmed outbreaks in domestic bird populations also include Haut-Saint-François, Brome-Missisquoi, Les Sources, and most recently on May 4 in a small non-poultry flock in Sainte-Sophie in the Laurentides.

Across the country, the CFIA has identified 59 outbreaks in eight provinces, including 22 in southern Ontario, 19 in Alberta, five in Saskatchewan, three in British Columbia, two in Nova Scotia, and one case each in Manitoba and New Brunswick. The virus has also been found in 32 states across the border, of which seven are directly adjacent to Canada. Most of the cases continue to be attributed to migratory and other wild birds that are directly or indirectly exposed to poultry or domestic birds.

Considering the severity of the situation, the Livestock Breeders Association of the District of Beauharnois (LBA) has decided to cancel the poultry exhibition that was to have taken place during the Desjardins Expo Ormstown. “As our fair is one of the first in Quebec, we felt it was safer to cancel now instead of waiting, letting everyone register, and then having to cancel their registrations,” says LBA manager, Sue Morison.

For Matthew Elliot, the poultry representative on the Expo Ormstown committee, the decision was taken as a precaution. “We have birds from the other side of Toronto and Prince Edward Island,” he says of the popularity of the fair’s poultry show. “Everybody would be bringing their germs from their home to one barn,” he adds, explaining this would create optimal conditions for the virus to spread.

A Howick-based egg producer, Elliott admits that while it is unfortunate to have to cancel the show for a third year in a row, it is simply not worth the risk. “From what I am hearing, [producers] notice it one day, and within five days the barn is wiped out,” he says, noting he is now practicing enhanced biosecurity on his farm.

Biosecurity practices have been stepped up at all levels within the industry, says Eliott. He is now disinfecting his boots before entering his barn, where he then changes his footwear entirely. Feed truck drivers are now disinfecting their wheels upon entering and leaving properties, and, he says, the drivers who collect eggs are now entering the cold room wearing disinfected and disposable plastic boots to avoid any possible contamination. “He disinfects the loading dock before starting, as a precaution,” Elliott explains, who says he appreciates how everyone is going out of their way to avoid spreading the virus.

Chicken farmer Douglas Bryson has also doubled down on the biosecurity practices on his Ormstown farm. “From here on out, I am implementing boot dips and regular hallway cleaning and disinfecting,” he says, while pointing out that disinfection has been shown to eliminate the virus.

Bryson is very quick to remind all chicken and egg producers, from commercial to small backyard flocks, of the importance of following the recommended biosecurity procedures, which include preventing all contact with wild birds; routinely and thoroughly cleaning barns, coops, cages, and any equipment or feed containers that come into contact with the birds; restricting visitors; and carefully monitoring all flocks for signs of disease. All area bird owners are legally responsible to notify a veterinarian or the CFIA of any symptoms directly, by calling 450-768-6763.

“It is so important for people to keep their birds inside until the geese have passed, [and] to use only one pair of shoes or boots to go tend to their flock to avoid spreading any fecal matter around,” says Bryson, who recommends disinfecting small coops with an approved disinfecting agent as well. The Éleveurs de volailles du Québec cautions that even once migratory birds have left the region, producers will need to remain vigilant. This strain of the avian influenza virus can live for weeks on the ground and in fields in cool wet weather.

Bryson says it is critical for everyone to understand the seriousness of the current situation. “There is no authority that outranks the CFIA if they decide to cull all the birds in an area. It is crucial for people who want to save their pets, source of fresh eggs, and livelihoods, that we all work together and do as much as possible to limit the spread.”

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