The H5 avian influenza virus has been detected on two poultry farms in the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver, officials in B.C. have confirmed
Testing found the virus at a turkey farm in Abbotsford and a broiler chicken breeding facility in Chilliwack, officials said in a statement released just after noon PT on Tuesday.
"The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has placed the two farms under quarantine to control disease spread and the industry sector has been notified to adopt enhanced biosecurity practices," said the statement.
Testing was conducted on Monday after thousands of birds died at the farms over the weekend.
"In terms of the virus, it's showing heavy mortality" on the two affected farms, said Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, chief veterinary officer of Canada.
It's not yet known how easily the infection can spread, said Kochhar.
Officials said the two farms are about eight kilometres apart, on either side of the Vedder River. It's not clear how they became infected, whether from migratory birds or another source.
"At this point we have no direct connection between the two barns," said Dr. Jane Pritchard, chief veterinary officer for B.C.
"There will be all kinds of investigations to see whether there were personnel that moved between the two barns, but at this point there is nothing."
18,000 birds affected
About half of the 11,000 birds on the Abbotsford turkey farm and 1,000 of the 7,000 birds on the Chilliwack farm have already died from the disease.
The turkeys were 83 days old and being raised for sale at Christmas, said Pritchard.
The rest of the birds will be killed by gassing the barns with carbon monoxide.
The carcasses will then be composted in the barn to contain the disease before they are removed, and the farms will remain under quarantine until the barns, equipment and vehicles are disinfected.
Further testing is underway to determine the precise subtype and strain of the virus, CFIA said, and the results are expected within days.
Public health officials will monitor for any human illness, offer influenza vaccine, and test and treat anyone displaying symptoms, said B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall.
"Currently we're not aware of anybody with any illness," said Kendall, who noted avian influenza rarely affects humans who do not have direct contact with infected birds.
The virus does not pose a risk to food products that are properly cooked.
4th outbreak since 2005
The outbreak is the fourth in the Fraser Valley since 2005.
In 2009, an outbreak of avian flu in the same region led to the quarantine of several farms
In another Fraser Valley outbreak in November 2005, two duck farms were infected with the H5N2 strain of the virus.
In 2004, an H7-type flu transformed into a highly contagious strain. Farm after farm was quarantined until finally about 15 million birds — almost the entire valley poultry population — were destroyed.