Deadly avian flu spreads to 2nd Newfoundland location

A deadly strain of avian influenza has spread to a second location in Newfoundland.

Federal officials confirmed Sunday that H5N1 bird flu killed chickens in a small backyard flock

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency placed the barn at Lester's Farm Chalet under quarantine and posted this sign on a gate near it in late December. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

A deadly strain of avian influenza has spread to a second location in Newfoundland.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says avian flu has killed chickens at a small, backyard farm on the Avalon Peninsula.

"This backyard flock owner had just a few chickens and ducks," Dr. Mary-Jane Ireland, the agency's chief veterinary officer, told CBC News on Tuesday.

Last week, CBC News reported that Lester's Farm Chalet in St. John's is the first operation that lost hundreds of birds to avian flu before Christmas.

More than 350 birds died there and another 60 birds, including geese, peacocks and an emu, were euthanized in an effort to contain the virus.

The CFIA says 17 birds died at the second location. Three were hens that were killed by the virus and the rest were ducks that were euthanized.

Ireland said both locations had ponds where farm birds could mingle with wild birds, and both owners had chickens that died suddenly.

Chickens infected with the H5N1 avian flu strain identified in Newfoundland become severely ill and die. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

The CFIA euthanized the surviving birds and drew out a 10-kilometre control zone around both facilities, putting them under quarantine. The agency says it continues to monitor wild and domestic birds through surveillance and sampling. Federal officials say they are also contacting farms and people with birds in the area to ask if any birds are showing signs of the disease.

Human health

Ireland says the H5N1 strain of avian influenza that was identified can, on rare occasions, cause disease in humans.

"It's almost always acquired through direct contact with infected birds and contaminated environments. Most human cases are limited to mild symptoms, like mild respiratory disease," said Ireland.

Dr, Mary-Jane Ireland is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's chief veterinary officer. (CBC)

"Some [avian flu] viruses can cause severe illness. So public health officials are recommending that people avoid handling live or dead birds and they are also recommending against the feeding of wild birds like ducks, gulls and pigeons at local parks,"

Wild birds tested positive

Ireland said the strain at the two locations has also been identified in wild birds in Newfoundland.

"Through wild bird surveillance that has been undertaken by Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, we found two birds with the same virus. So we know it is in some wild birds that we have sampled," she said.

Ireland called on people who keep birds to take steps to prevent them from becoming infected.

"Whether you are a commercial poultry facility or whether you own a small, backyard flock, make sure you are keeping your domestic birds away from areas that are frequented by wild birds and maintain strict control over access to your birds and chicken coops," she said.

"Make sure equipment is cleaned and disinfected before taking it into you chicken coops or enclosures."

Source is likely wild birds

The CFIA suspects the source of infection at the two Avalon Peninsula location is wild, aquatic, long-range, migratory birds but don't believe the virus has spread to the rest of Canada or North America.

Ducks and geese that tested positive for avian influenza mingled with wild birds at this pond at Lester's Farm Chalet in St. John's. (Mark Quinn/ CBC)

"There have been a number of outbreaks in Europe at commercial operations and in wild birds but we do not have evidence that it is in other locations," said Ireland.

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Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.