CFIA Confirms Avian Flu Virus in Ontario is Same Strain Found in U.S. and B.C.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed the avian influenza virus found in a turkey flock near Woodstock, Ontario is the same subtype identified in British Columbia in December and in several states in the US Midwest over the last month.

“The CFIA’s testing at the National Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases has confirmed the strain responsible for this latest avian influenza finding in Ontario as a highly-pathogenic H5N2 virus,” said Paul Mayers, vice-president of policy and programs for the CFIA, during a media briefing on Wednesday afternoon.

As of April 8th, a total of nine poultry farms in Ontario, including the infected site in Oxford County, had been placed under quarantine. The infected birds were found in one of four barns on a single farm. This barn housed 12,000 of 44,800 turkeys on the premise; the CFIA said Wednesday that approximately 34,000 remaining birds on the site will be euthanized as soon as possible using carbon dioxide.

There are numerous ways in which avian influenza viruses can spread, including interaction between domestic and wild birds, movement of live birds between facilities and the movement of any materials that could transfer the virus. How the H5N2 virus infected this barn is still unknown, although further testing could help find the source, noted Mayers.

“The laboratory work continues in terms of the genetic sequencing of this particular virus. That information will assist us in potentially linking the specific virus causing disease on this farm with any other virus isolations, either in Canada or in the United States,” he said, pointing out the CFIA is involved with regular surveillance of avian influenza in wild birds. “It’s much too early at this point to draw any conclusions in that regard.”

The H5N2 virus was found in commercial poultry flocks in Pacific flyway in late 2014, including in British Columbia and several West Coast states. The first case in the middle of the continent, in the Mississippi flyway, was confirmed in a Minnesota turkey flock in early March. The virus has since been found in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Montana and South Dakota. A total of nine turkey flocks in Minnesota alone have been infected.

According to Mayers, Hong Kong and Uruguay have joined Taiwan and Japan in implementing various forms of restrictions on poultry imports from Ontario and/or Canada, and he indicated there may be additional trade implications as the CFIA reports the finding to the World Organization for Animal Health.

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Kelvin Heppner

Kelvin Heppner is a field editor and radio host for RealAgriculture and RealAg Radio. He's been reporting on agriculture on the prairies and across Canada since 2008(ish). He farms with his family near Altona, Manitoba, and is on Twitter at @realag_kelvin. @realag_kelvin

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