Avian flu found in Fraser Valley

A highly pathogenic strain of avian flu has been found at five Fraser Valley poultry farms so far.

Three chicken and two turkey farms, in Abbotsford and Chilliwack, have been affected.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced that early tests showed that an H5 type flu virus was found in birds at three additional Abbotsford poultry farms after the initial outbreak.

About 11,000 turkeys were in one infected barn on a farm in Abbotsford, but most of the birds there have already died of H5N2 influenza, said Dr. Jane Pritchard, the chief veterinary officer for B.C.’s Ministry of Agriculture.

The 17,000 birds in another two barns on the property will also have to be destroyed, Pritchard said.

Further birds will be destroyed at the other farms, and CFIA officials are keeping watch for any other cases.

Dr. Harpreet Kuchar, chief vet for the CFIA, said the strain of flu is “highly pathogenic.”

“We are reminding farmers to practice a high level of bio-security,” he said.

Local turkey farmers were being cautious.

“This is a concern for all of us that grow birds,” said Janice McWilliams, office manager at J.D. Farms in Aldergrove.

Heightened bio-security means locked gates and other measures around poultry farms. That augments the already existing bio-security poultry farms have to uphold.

“I believe everyone is concerned, and everyone’s got a heightened level of awareness,” said Michel Benoit, general manager of B.C. Turkey Farmers.

There are restrictions in areas close to the outbreak sites on moving everything from manure to birds, Benoit noted.

Despite the loss of tens of thousands of birds, there shouldn’t be a price shock for those buying Christmas turkeys in the coming weeks, Benoit said.

While producers might be able to ask for slightly higher prices, grocery stores typically subsidize the prices of turkeys to draw in shoppers, Benoit said.

Out of province suppliers are also being contacted to make sure there isn’t much of a supply strain, said Benoit.

So far, there hasn’t been a single case of the flu reported in Langley.

The flu is so deadly to birds, it’s obvious when something is wrong, said Pritchard.

“If it hits, the producer isn’t going to miss it,” Pritchard said. “When it hits, it hits hard.”

Even if a flu-infected bird made its way onto store shelves, avian influenza isn’t generally dangerous to people provided the bird is cooked properly.

Bird-to-human transmission is rare and generally only happens with people who work closely with poultry.

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