Avian influenza (bird flu) is spreading across the globe, and causing enough of a concern in Canada that the CFIA has put out a “strong reminder” that anyone with birds must practice good biosecurity habits to protect poultry and prevent disease. The CFIA is currently responding to cases of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in farmed birds in several provinces, with the highest number of infected premises occurring in Ontario (19) and Alberta (18) as of April 28, 2022. Nearly 1.4 million birds are estimated to be impacted – almost double the estimated 717,000 of April 21.
While HPAI is not a food safety concern, with no evidence to suggest that eating cooked poultry or eggs could transmit HPAI to humans, it is a federally reportable disease under the Health of Animals Act. By regulation, all animal owners, veterinarians, and laboratories are required to immediately report to CFIA the presence of an animal that is contaminated or suspected of being contaminated. Avian influenza also has significant economic consequences for producers and processors. Depopulation of flocks is costly, and restriction of movement and trade of poultry products can be devastating for affected producers. Egg processors and graders can be forced to shut down due to restricted supplies of eggs and birds.
Poultry disease can be spread:
- Through diseased or disease-carrying birds or other animals, live or dead.
- In contaminated feed, water, bedding, and litter; on farm equipment and vehicles; and on employee/visitor shoes and clothing.
- Through contact with neighbouring flocks.
- In airborne particles and dust blown by the wind.
It is so critical for both commercial and small flocks (including pet bird owners) to prevent the spread of this deadly disease that CFIA has implemented movement permits for anyone transporting live birds or poultry products in, out or through avian influenza control zones. The agency also has taken to social media to spread the word. On its Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook pages, CFIA is posting statements such as:
- All farmers & producers are responsible for preventing contact between livestock & wildlife to avoid spreading diseases like #AvianFlu to other farms.
- STOP distributing eggs and other bird products, even to family, friends, and neighbours to help prevent disease spread.
- If eggs leave your household and HPAI is detected in your birds, we have to apply extra control measures that impact all poultry producers in at least a 10 km radius – that includes everything from large commercial flocks to others with a few backyard hens.
As described by the Poultry Industry Council of Canada, biosecurity is multi-faceted health plan that “is about keeping what is inside the barn in, and what is outside the barn out.” Thus, it includes isolation, traffic control (vectors and fomites), hygiene, mortality, and manure management as well as cleaning, disinfection and water sanitation.
In encouraging the practice of enhanced biosecurity measures for all bird owners – large and small, CFIA provides guidance for each segment. Following is a brief overview of each, with links to the full guidances.
- Producers. With a focus on access, animal health, and operational management, the guidance includes discussion of beneficial practices and other examples to facilitate meeting the Target Outcomes of the National Avian On-Farm Biosecurity Standard while providing the flexibility required for a variable and complex poultry industry.
- Poultry Service Industry. Stating that when an alert situation exists, service providers should schedule only essential services and go only where necessary, the guidance provides additional considerations for service during an alert and when requested to provide services on a known infected premises.
- Small flocks/pet birds. CFIA lists five “basic rules” for reducing risk: Prevent contact with wild birds and other animals, clean, know the signs and report early, limit visitor exposure, and keep new birds separate. Just as with large commercial operations, owners of small flocks or pets are legally responsible to notify authorities of serious bird diseases such as avian influenza.
How far the disease will be spread and how many birds will die or need to be culled before it wanes is yet to be seen. But the closer every poultry owner watches and maintains their flocks, implements all possible biosecurity practices, and immediately reports any signs, the more likely containment and mitigation will become.