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Editorial: Avian Flu

For the first time ever, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has confirmed bird flu in several Alberta poultry flocks this spring.
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For the first time ever, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has confirmed bird flu in several Alberta poultry flocks this spring.

The discovery is not only devastating to poultry farmers, but can have a potential long-lasting impact on food production.

While commercial poultry producers follow strict biosecurity practices, the airborne virus spreads easily and can infect birds through contamination or ventilation in a barn. Since the start of April and as of press time, at least 18 flocks were confirmed to have the highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) by the CFIA, impacting an estimated 600,000 birds ranging from hatching eggs chicken farms, broiler chicken, commercial egg-layer farms, turkey farms, and backyard flocks. 

According to the CFIA, infected facilities in Alberta have been placed under quarantine and investigations and movement control measures are ongoing.

While avian influenza is not a significant public health concern for healthy people, according to the CFIA, the virus can decimate an entire flock of commercially produced birds in under a week. 

The recent outbreak began last year in Europe and has since spread to the United States and Canada. Cases have also been confirmed in Asia and Africa. With cases spreading in Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as Alberta, it is devastating infected commercial farms with its very high mortality rate.

The CFIA has set up its emergency response operations on infected farms in Alberta, carrying out measures including the euthanization of infected and exposed animals, surveillance and tracing, strict quarantine measures, and decontamination of facilities.

With the risk of wild birds carrying the virus migrating to and through Canada in the spring and fall months, backyard hobby flocks and pet birds aren’t safe either. 

There is no treatment for birds infected with the disease and bird owners are legally obligated to notify authorities of serious bird diseases like avian influenza. 

Not to be alarmist, but readers might want to purchase the poultry now before prices skyrocket.