250,000 birds killed due to avian flu in British Columbia, Canada

H5N2 Virus

It will be a cautious Christmas for avian farmers in the Fraser Valley, with “bio-security” precautions taking precedence over traditional festive gatherings.

Nearly 250,000 chickens and turkeys are either dead or set to be euthanized due to avian flu, which has infected 11 sites in B.C.’s Fraser Valley since the beginning of the month.

The avian flu virus involved in an outbreak in B.C. is related to a deadly strain that has spread through Asia and is now affecting North American poultry for the first time, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has said.

Kerry Froese, a farmer with 170,000 chickens on two farms in Abbotsford, said many friends and families in the Fraser Valley farming community have halted traditional seasonal gatherings. Instead of attending annual holiday events with fellow farmers, or going to church, or even visiting family and friends with farms, they’ve hunkered down on their own properties. The concern is not that people would pass the infection to each other, but that they might inadvertently carry a contaminant on their boots or clothing to another farmer’s property.

“It just means we have to reduce contact,” Froese said.

Froese said authorities are advising farmers to change and thoroughly clean their clothing after entering their bird barns.

“What happens in the barn, stays in the barn,” is how Froese put it.

The agency has yet to determine the source of the outbreak or how it is spreading. The strain has not yet been detected in wild birds in Canada.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed two wild birds in Washington state tested positive for avian flu — one with H5N2 and another with H5N8. It’s not clear whether those cases are connected in any way to the B.C. outbreak.

Meanwhile poultry producers are assuring B.C. residents there will be plenty of turkeys on store shelves during the holidays despite the flu.

The industry group representing farmers who raise chickens, turkeys and eggs says it has bolstered its stock with birds from out of the province so prices remain stable.

The president of the B.C. Poultry Association says it’s important for shoppers to understand that the province’s poultry and egg products are safe to eat.

Ray Nickel says there is no evidence that eating poultry or eggs can transmit the avian flu virus to humans.

Courtesy of The Province

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