No link between avian flu in B.C. and Washington farms

By Don Jenkins

Capital Press

Four British Columbia poultry farms just north of Washington state were under quarantine Wednesday as Canadian health officials scramble to contain an outbreak of H5 avian influenza that has already claimed at least 18,000 chickens and turkeys.

Canadian officials are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate whether the highly contagious virus has spread to Washington. So far, investigators have found no transfer of poultry between the B.C. farms and U.S. growers, said Harpeet Kochhar, chief veterinarian of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

“Right now, it is more or less restricted to the Fraser Valley” east of Vancouver, B.C., he said.

Kochhar said officials expect on Thursday to pinpoint the strain of the H5 avian influenza, which was last seen in Canada in Manitoba in 2010.

The outbreak drew a swift reaction from Hong Kong, which banned the importation of poultry and eggs from the Fraser Valley.

Officials quarantined a turkey farm near Abbotsford and a chicken farm in Chilliwack on Tuesday. Officials quarantined two more chicken farms Wednesday. The four farms are within about 5 miles of each other and fewer than 10 miles from the U.S. border.

The turkeys on the Abbotsford farm began dying in unusually large numbers late last week, Jane Pritchard, British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture’s chief veterinarian, said.

An initial examination of dead birds found no signs that avian influenza caused the deaths, but further tests revealed that the virus was the cause, she said.

On the Chilliwack chicken farm, about 1,000 of its 7,000 birds have died.

The surviving birds on both farms will be euthanized, officials said.

The other two chicken farms, one in Abbotsford and one in Chilliwack, were quarantined because they took poultry from the infected farm last week. Officials said they hoped to confirm later today whether the virus has spread to those farms. One farm already has reported an unusually large number of deaths, Pritchard said.

Late Tuesday, a Washington Department of Agriculture veterinarian, Lyndon Badcoe, emailed a statewide alert to veterinarians and poultry producers about the outbreak in Canada.

Badcoe suggested extra precautions be taken when transferring poultry.

Canadian officials said they don’t know where the virus originated. Domestic poultry can pick up the disease from migratory birds.

Humans rarely contract the virus, and officials said they don’t know of any cases related to the new outbreak in the Fraser Valley.

The disease also does not pose a risk to food safety, as long as poultry is properly handled and prepared, officials said.

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