Farmers and wildlife watchers are on guard after some flocks of poultry and wild birds, including a Canada goose in Ottawa and a red duck in Kingston, Ont. – recently tested positive for a deadly strain of bird flu.
Canada has seen a limited number of outbreaks of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of avian influenza so far this year, said Dr. Shayan Sharif, professor and associate dean of the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.
“We need to make sure the virus is contained very effectively and very successfully at this stage,” he said.
The virus rarely infects humans. However, it can make birds very sick, causing everything from coughing and sneezing to erratic behavior.
A goose on the bank of the Rideau River tests positive
Last week, a volunteer with bird rescue group Safe Wings Ottawa confirmed a passerby’s report of a disoriented goose near the shore of the Rideau River near the Billings Bridge.
“Considering he was out of balance, had neurological symptoms…we thought it would be safer to call the Canadian Wildlife Service,” said Anouk Hoedeman, co-founder and coordinator of Safe Wings.
The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative confirmed that the goose was infected with the H5N1 strain.
A duck in Kingston, a red-tailed hawk in New Hamburg, Ont., and a crested merganser in Point Pelee National Park have also tested positive for the strain in the past two weeks.
Although cases of bird flu are discovered every year, they are generally of the low pathogenic type – unlike the strain now hitting Canada and other parts of the world, said a wildlife pathologist from the co-op’s Ontario office. .
“This is actually causing serious disease and death in wild birds in large numbers, something we’ve never seen before,” said Brian Stevens.
There have been outbreaks and major “deaths” in Europe and Africa and recent reports of wild bird deaths as a direct result of the virus in North America, Stevens continued.
“Whenever we have a highly pathogenic strain, we always worry that it will spread through commercial or backyard poultry flocks.”
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has already placed three commercial turkey farms in Ontario and two backyard flocks in the province, including one north of Peterborough, Ont., under quarantine after animals at each site were been infected with the strain.
The agency – which has called this bird flu a “significant national concern as birds migrate to Canada” – maintains an up-to-date list of affected sites here.
Farmers across the province are “absolutely concerned” but not yet alarmed by the current workload, said Lisa Bishop, director of brand and communications at Chicken Farms of Canada.
“When you start to see it land in commercial operation, that means it’s time to reinvigorate or redouble your biosecurity efforts,” she said, citing measures such as enhanced disinfection.
Farms with infected herds usually see those animals slaughtered, she added.
“It’s very stressful,” Bishop said of the impact on farmers, who fear a worst-case scenario like 2004 when BC’s poultry industry was devastated by bird flu.
Worry about injured birds left behind
Safe Wings is concerned that the current state of heightened vigilance could affect local wildlife protection efforts, Hoedeman said.
As of March 31, the Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Center – which takes in birds struck by vehicles – is temporarily not accepting injured or sick waterfowl or dead birds of any kind. due to H5N1 cases, according to its website. Instead, people are encouraged to call the co-op.
“We don’t want the public to run them themselves,” Hoedeman said. “But you also don’t want to leave birds that are clearly injured and in pain.”
Hoedeman said she hopes the City of Ottawa or the Ottawa Humane Society may be able to help in some situations.
If you encounter a sick or dead wild bird, please contact the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative by phone (866-673-4781) or report it online at https://cwhc.wildlifesubmissions.org