2 suspected cases of avian flu now confirmed in Manitoba, province says

The province has now confirmed that two suspected cases of avian influenza in Manitoba have tested positive for the H5N1 subvariant.

Both samples tested positive for the highly contagious H5N1 bird flu

A file photo shows an eagle near Morris, Man. The province said Wednesday a sample collected from a bald eagle near Dauphin has tested positive for the highly contagious H5N1 subvariant of the avian flu. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The avian flu has now been confirmed to be in Manitoba, after samples from snow geese and a bald eagle were tested for the virus and came back positive.

The province previously said there were two suspected cases of the bird flu. Those two cases are now confirmed.

The samples from the snow geese were collected in southwestern Manitoba, and the sample from the bald eagle was collected near Dauphin, Manitoba Natural Resources and Northern Development said in a news release on Wednesday.

The group of snow geese had died, prompting the sample to be taken and tested. The bald eagle was showing signs of neurological impairment and was humanely euthanized, according to the province.

Both samples tested positive for the H5N1 subtype of the highly pathogenic avian influenza. The province says it expects to report more confirmed cases in the coming weeks and throughout the summer.

"This is an evolving situation," Maria Arlt, acting director of the Wildlife and Fisheries branch of Manitoba Agriculture, said at a news briefing Wednesday afternoon.

"Manitoba is constantly monitoring the latest guidance and advice from our partners and we will be adjusting accordingly."

Manitoba Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Scott Zaari, who also spoke at Wednesday's briefing, said waterfowl and poultry are most susceptible to the virus.

While there have been poultry outbreaks in other jurisdictions, to date, there haven't been any cases detected in any poultry flocks in Manitoba, and the H5N1 strain does not pose a food safety risk, the province says. 

The H5N1 virus has been detected in several provinces, including Alberta, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia in recent months.

The virus has also been detected south of the border in North Dakota and Minnesota, along the route that spring migratory birds travel when returning to Manitoba in the spring, the province of Manitoba says.

While the risk of transmission of avian influenza to humans is low — there are no known cases of transmission in North America — people should not touch dead birds or other wildlife with their bare hands.

The province recommends protective eyewear, masks and gloves when handling wildlife, and says to dispose of a dead bird, it should be placed in a plastic bag.

The province also asks citizens to contact its toll-free tip line at 1-800-782-0076 if they find any of the following:

  • Six or more dead waterfowl, like ducks or geese.
  • Any number of dead raptors or avian scavengers, like ravens or crows.
  • Large groups of dead birds.

Small flock owners in Manitoba should take precautions, as small flocks are at high risk for infection. Because they often have a free range or outdoor pens, it is likely that small flocks could come in contact with wild birds carrying the virus. 

There are currently no plans to introduce emergency regulatory orders for commercial or small flock owners, Dr. Zaari said at Wednesday's briefing.

Existing measures for commercial flock owners include regular veterinarian visits to collect samples for testing at the provincial lab.

Smaller flock owners, or hobby farmers who don't have the same biosecurity measures as commercial producers, can have their vet submit samples for testing at the lab at no cost.

"It's really a matter of maintaining our existing structure and following the biosecurity protocols that our producers already have in place," Dr. Zaari said. 

If at all possible, Manitoba Agriculture recommends that small flock owners keep their birds indoors during the high-risk period of spring migration.

Poultry farmers should follow strict biosecurity protocols and take precautions with farm visitors, and continue monitoring information provided by the Office of the Chief Veterinarian, the province says.

The overall risk to the bird population is low, Arlt said.