Bird flu confirmed on farm in St. Catharines; 14,000 ducks to be killed

Fourteen thousand ducks are to be euthanized to stop spread of H5N1 virus, which was detected at a farm in St. Catharines on July 8.

Fourteen thousand ducks to be 'de-populated' to stop spread of H5N1 virus Ontario

Ontario poultry farmers are encouraged to beef up their biosecurity measures, such as being cautious about the movement of birds.

Less than a year after Ontario was declared free of avian influenza, 14,000 ducks will be killed after the virus was found on a commercial farm in St. Catharines, Ont.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency released a statement Friday that the virus was found in the 12-week old birds, and continued testing will be used to confirm which strain is present, though it is connected to the H5N2 strain.

The CFIA says the highly contagious virus has the potential to hit other farms in the area in the coming days.

The infected farm raises only ducks, most of which are around 12 weeks of age, and have now been placed under quarantine to control disease spread. 
Ontario was last confirmed to be free of avian influenza on October 8, 2015 (AP Photo/Remy Gabalda)

The CFIA is in the early stages of doing a full epidemiological investigation, said Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, Chief Veterinary Officer of Operations at the agency.

The CFIA says there's no reason to be afraid. 

"Avian influenza does not pose a risk to food safety when poultry and poultry products are properly handled and cooked and rarely affects humans," Kochhar said.

The first steps for the agency are to identify the strain, set up a surveillance zone and maintain the appropriate bio-security measures on the quarantined farm.

"We're trying to figure out what would make sense in terms of the high risk contact farms," said Kochhar. The goal being to "contain the virus as well as have commerce in the rest of Ontario."

"Were working diligently to get to that level," he said.

Producers take caution

At this time the CFIA is asking all poultry producers to take extra precautions when it comes to the security of their livestock.
Colorized transmission electron micrograph of Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses (seen in gold) grown in MDCK cells (seen in green). (Ho/Cynthia Goldsmith, Jackie Katz, Sharif Zaki/CDC/Canadian Press)

The main concern at this point is external contact, and "we are insisting to be very cautious about any kind of movement of birds," said Kochhar.​ "This is a farm that has the appropriate bio-security measures; there is nothing indicating that these are birds that are raised outside or have exposure to the outside." 

The highest risks for infection or spread of the virus come with movement of livestock, and exposure to new environments or wild birds.

Individuals with pet birds or backyard flocks are also being urged to take an active role, and employ strict bio-security measures on their property.

There's always a risk with an influenza virus- Dr. Harpreet Kochhar

The low pathogenic nature of the virus means few symptoms for birds, as opposed to the outbreak in turkey last year, which was highly pathogenic and infectious.

Euthanization and disposal

"There's always a risk with an influenza virus," said Kochhar, who added that this form of the virus is still highly contagious, but produces "milder illnesses in poultry."

While avian influenza does not pose a risk to food safety, and rarely affects humans, public health authorities are ready to take precautionary measures as necessary.

All 14,000 birds within the infected area will be humanely euthanized, he said, and disposed of in accordance with provincial environmental regulations, and internationally accepted disease control guidelines.
The CFIA is encouraging enhanced bio-security practices for farmers in Southern Ontario, including limiting outdoor exposure. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

This is referred to as 'de-populating' the farm, and is necessary to ensure there is no spread to the virus.

The Province of Ontario will provide technical support as required with carcass disposal.

Once all birds have been removed, the CFIA will ensure the cleaning and disinfection of barns, vehicles, equipment and tools to eliminate any remaining infectious materials.

The end goal is to ensure the elimination of the virus and "minimize the impact on commerce," said Kochhar.

"If the bio-security measures are proper, this risk can be minimized," he said.