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B.C. bird flu virus a first for North America

By Jane Deacon

(REUTERS)

(REUTERS)

The avian flu virus infecting B.C. poultry farms is a North American first, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed.

The strain, a highly pathogenic form of H5N2, contains gene segments from the Eurasian H5N8 virus — which marks the first time this lineage has caused a bird flu outbreak in poultry in North America.

The finding is significant because of its ability to cause high mortality among infected birds, reports the CFIA. More than half of the B.C. birds hit with the virus have died, while the rest are humanely euthanized.

Despite quarantines and strict biosecurity protocols at infected sites, a 10th Fraser Valley farm was hit last week, bringing the total number of infected chickens and turkeys to nearly 250,000. The source of the virus and how it has spread between farms remain unknown.

Health officials report that transmission risk to humans remains extremely low if poultry products are cooked and handled properly.

The BC Turkey Farmers association says it’s importing birds from other provinces to meet demand for the Christmas season.

“We’ve been working hard to ensure that turkeys are available to everyone who wants one for their holiday dinners,” said Michel Benoit of BC Turkey Farmers. “We’ve supplemented our stock with turkeys from other provinces and prices will remain stable.”

This is the third outbreak of avian influenza in B.C. in the last 10 years, with 16 million birds hit by a widespread epidemic in 2004.

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