Avian flu devastates 17 Manitoba farms
Close to 300,000 birds died or destroyed in past six weeks
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/10/2022 (235 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Nearly 300,000 birds on Manitoba poultry farms died or were culled in the past six weeks as a highly contagious avian influenza tears through flocks in the Interlake and the southeastern part of the province.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has declared 17 poultry farms — both commercial and non-commercial — as sites with confirmed infections of the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1.
The virus, which was first detected in April in a commercial flock in Manitoba, has spread rapidly this fall with 15 farms reporting infections since mid-September. To date, the outbreaks have been concentrated in the rural municipalities of Bifrost-Riverton and Ste. Anne.
As of last Wednesday, an estimated 289,000 birds — including chickens and turkeys — died or were destroyed as part of efforts to contain the contagion, most in the past month, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said.
Details about individual farms are not being released to protect the privacy of producers who are dealing with a significant setback for their farms, an agency spokesperson said.
At least six of the latest outbreaks affect turkey farmers, Manitoba Turkey Producers general manager Helga Wheddon said. The association represents 53 farms in the province.
“It can be very stressful and a hard thing for them to go through,” Wheddon said.
Stakes are high for turkey farmers who are taking every precaution to stop the introduction of the virus, she said. However, the disease has already devastated some producers who have flocks ranging in size from 3,000 to 10,000 birds.
“Turkey producers are very concerned. It’s all their investment, and for them, it’s hard because these birds that they raise, they’re very proud of,” Wheddon said.
She could not say how many turkeys were among the estimated 289,000 impacted birds. Farmers are still going through the process of assessing their losses, she added.
“At this point, it’s been on a day-to-day basis of it almost being an emergency response,” she said.
It’s hard to say what is behind the rapid introduction of the virus at commercial turkey operations, but the fall migration of wild birds is likely a key contributor, Wheddon said.
Commercial and backyard poultry operations across North America have been upended by highly pathogenic bird flu strains, which have impacted more than three million commercially raised birds in Canada, and more than 47 million in the United States, this year alone.
Geese, ducks and shorebirds carry the virus between regions and shed it through direct and indirect contact. Contaminated droppings, equipment, clothing, footwear, vehicles, water and feed can all contribute to the spread.
“For us, for sure, it’s concerning,” Wheddon said of the growing number of outbreaks. “But we know that our producers are trying to do their best, and will do their best, in regards to bio-security and that’s really what we can tell them right now.”
Consumers are unlikely to notice disruptions in the local turkey supply chain, though that could change depending on how outbreaks progress, she said.
The CFIA said the bird flu is not a food-safety concern.
To date, Manitoba has not reported any cases of human infections connected to the outbreaks. The risk of a person becoming infected with H5N1 is low, and transmission from person-to-person is considered to be rare.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a single case of human avian influenza in April. A single case was also reported in the United Kingdom in December 2021.
In a statement, a provincial government spokesperson said it is assisting the CFIA and poultry producers with surveillance and the destruction and disposal of birds on affected farms.
“Manitoba Agriculture has also been liaising with small flock owners to ensure all those working with poultry have access to appropriate resources and assist with the regulations required in control zones,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“Public health is engaging with affected producers to provide relevant information on avian influenza, access to resources, such as influenza vaccination, and mental-health support.”
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.