Bird flu strain same as 2009 outbreak
Federal inspectors are still investigating the death of Fraser Valley turkeys. (REUTERS)
The strain of avian flu affecting at least two Fraser Valley farms is a more virulent form of the same virus that hit the region in 2009.
A highly pathogenic form of the H5N2 bird flu virus has been confirmed on an Abbotsford turkey farm and a Chilliwack chicken farm, affecting upwards of 35,000 birds. Two other quarantined chicken farms have tested positive for bird flu, but await confirmation on the exact strain.
It’s a more contagious and fatal form of the same virus that affected some 70,000 B.C. birds in 2009, a sign of the way these viruses can mutate, said Harpreet Kochhar, Canada’s chief veterinary officer.
While the Canadian Food Inspection Agency believes the outbreak is limited to the four farms, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea have placed varying bans on the import of B.C. and Canadian poultry since confirmation of bird flu in the region Monday.
Health officials have not yet determined the source of the virus, having ruled out any potential connections between the first two sites. The presence of affected migratory birds remains a possibility.
The symptoms in some affected birds are puzzling, said Jane Pritchard, B.C.’s chief veterinary officer.
“We still don’t quite understand why, with the turkeys, we saw nothing, other than that they were dead,” she said. “They were suddenly dead birds. When we looked at them post-mortem, there was nothing to indicate what had killed them.”
The affected chickens displayed more typical symptoms — mostly concentrated in the respiratory system — including something called the “cathedral effect.”
“Usually when you walk into a flock, it’s quite busy and noisy,” said Pritchard. “But with avian influenza, you walk in and it’s silent. It’s quite scary when you actually observe it.”
The flocks on all four of the affected farms will be euthanized, although the vast majority have already died from the virus, said Pritchard.
Health officials maintain that there are no food safety risks when poultry is handled and prepared properly.