High death rate alerted federal agency to bird flu at area farm: industry group

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A high mortality rate in a flock of poultry has alerted a federal agency to a case of bird flu at a farm in the Thamesford area, according to an industry group.

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“Testing at these particular premises would have been triggered by a higher than normal mortality situation,” said Ingrid DeVisser, president of the Feather Board Command Centre, an industry group that provides emergency response to Ontario poultry farmers.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says outbreaks of the “highly pathogenic” H5N1 strain of avian influenza have been confirmed in a flock of poultry in Zorra Township, western Oxford County, and in a flock of poultry in a township northeast of Guelph.

Avian flu is spreading through wild bird populations around the world and “presents a significant national concern as birds migrate into Canada,” the agency said.

Poultry keepers are advised to practice good biosecurity habits, such as restricting access to their poultry houses and ensuring equipment is cleaned and disinfected before introduction.

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DeVisser said Tuesday she doesn’t know how many birds died. When asked what type of bird had tested positive at the Thamesford area farm, she said: ‘I can only confirm it is poultry.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has quarantined the two farms and established 10-kilometre control zones around them. The agency monitors traffic on and off these farms and monitors bird health, DeVisser said.

Asked how a bird on the farm in the Thamesford area could have contracted the disease, DeVisser said: “We know that wild birds carry bird flu. We know they are currently flying and we know it. . . disease spreads through water droplets, and we certainly had hot, humid weather.

Last week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed avian influenza in a wild red-tailed hawk in Waterloo Region.

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DeVisser’s group sent a notice to poultry farmers telling them to increase their biosecurity measures. “We need to do everything we can to make sure we keep this out of our barns,” she said.

In a way, the recent coronavirus pandemic has helped prepare farmers, she said.

“We’ve all had a bit of practice with this with COVID. We kind of know what to do. . . we limit our contact, we meet virtually, so you know, those are the things we do to mitigate the risk” of the flu spreading to other farms, she said.

DeVisser said that shouldn’t affect the poultry supply. “We want to encourage people to eat their Easter turkey,” she said.

Ontario is the largest poultry producer in the country, with much of the industry in southwestern Ontario. Ontario farmers produce more than 200 million chickens per year, while Ontario turkey farmers market between 85 and 90 million kilograms of turkey per year, about 45% of the total raised in Canada.

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs says bird flu does not pose a threat to food safety when proper handling and cooking are done.

It also indicates that avian influenza is not a significant public health problem for healthy people who are not in regular contact with infected birds.

In 2015, three farms in Oxford County were hit by outbreaks of an H5N2 strain of bird flu. Around 80,000 birds, mostly turkeys, were wiped out as authorities spent months trying to contain the disease.



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