Two cases of avian flu have been confirmed in wild birds in Manitoba, and the province expects existing biosecurity measures will be enough to keep the infectious disease under control.

Two cases of avian flu have been confirmed in wild birds in Manitoba, and the province expects existing biosecurity measures will be enough to keep the infectious disease under control.

The confirmed influenza cases (HPAI, subtype H5N1) are from a bald eagle in the Dauphin area and a snow goose near Waskada. The risk of transmission to humans is low. Avian flu cases are spreading elsewhere in Canada and across the border in North Dakota and Minnesota along routes for migratory birds returning to Manitoba.

Additional positive cases among wild birds are expected in the province in the coming weeks during the high-risk migration season. There are no cases thus far among poultry, and officials are not planning to issue any emergency orders or additional biosecurity mandates for commercial poultry farmers, Dr. Scott Zaari, Manitoba’s chief veterinary officer, said Wednesday.

“It’s a matter of maintaining our existing structure and following the biosecurity protocols that our producers already have in place,” Zaari said.

The province is urging poultry farmers to follow existing protocols, which involve regular veterinary monitoring and diagnostic testing, and is recommending owners of small flocks and hobby farms take extra precautions because of the risk of wild birds spreading the flu to poultry. Flock auctions and bird trading should be put on hold during this migration season, and the province recommends small flocks be kept indoors for now.

“What we have in place, what exists in commercial flocks is perfectly suitable and doesn’t need to be enhanced,” Zaari added.

There’s no food-safety risk with this strain of bird flu as long as poultry and wild game are handled properly.

In the wild, waterfowl such as ducks and geese are most susceptible to the avian flu, while chickens and turkeys are likely to be hardest hit if the infection makes its way to commercial farms.

There’s no risk to the public at this time. Manitobans can continue to use bird feeders as long as they don’t also keep backyard chickens. The province recommends that bird feeders are regularly cleaned and sanitized.

The overall impact on Manitoba’s wild birds is expected to be low, said Maria Arlt, acting director of the fish and wildlife branch at Natural Resources and Northern Development.

The province doesn’t have a monitoring system for wild birds. Hunters and residents are being asked to report sightings of dead birds, specifically clusters of six or more waterfowl, 20 or more dead birds of any kind or any number of dead raptors or scavenger birds such as crows, ravens or gulls.

People should not touch dead birds, Arlt said.

“Because migratory birds occur throughout the province, it’s difficult for us to monitor for the disease in some kind of large capacity, based on limited staff numbers, but that’s why we’re asking the public to help us to monitor,” she said.

“As people are out on the land, we’re asking them to report back to us any of these sightings, and our local staff will work with the public to collect those birds and submit them to the chief veterinary office for testing.”

Manitobans can call a toll-free tip line 1-800-782-0076 to report any sightings.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.