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Avian Influenza: Keep your Flock Safe

By Dr. Wendy Wilkins, PhD, Disease Surveillance Veterinarian and Mikayla Waller, AAg, Animal Health and Welfare Specialist, Livestock Branch, Regina

Black chickens in a pen

Avian influenza (AI) is a federally reportable disease under the Health of Animals Act. This virus, commonly known as “bird-flu,” affects food-producing birds including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and quails, as well as pet and wild birds. The AI virus exists in two forms: low pathogenicity (LPAI); and highly pathogenic (HPAI). Pathogenicity refers to the severity of the illness caused in birds. Clinical signs of AI include: lack of energy and appetite; decreased egg production; swelling around the head, neck and eyes; coughing, sneezing or gasping for air; and, tremors or lack of coordination. Sudden death of large numbers of birds is not uncommon. Although rare, AI can also infect humans. Affected people tend to be those who have close contact with infected birds or heavily-contaminated environments.

Wild birds, especially waterfowl, are natural reservoirs of influenza viruses. Outbreaks of AI in domestic poultry are usually associated with the migration patterns of these birds. Birds with access to the outdoors, as is common with small flocks, are considered most at risk for being exposed to AI. You can safeguard the health of your birds and work to maintain a healthy flock by following the basic biosecurity recommendations below.

Prevent contact with wild birds

Wild birds can transmit diseases through direct bird-to-bird contact or indirectly through contaminated feed, water, equipment or clothing. Adequate fencing and proper feed storage can help to ensure that your birds and their feed are not exposed to potential risks.

Maintain cleanliness

Proper cleaning and disinfection reduces the risk of disease transmission. Facilities and equipment should be cleaned of visible contamination and disinfected with an approved product.

Monitor your flock

Owners are legally responsible for notifying authorities of reportable and notifiable bird diseases such as AI. It is important to report any bird that you think may be sick. Early reporting limits the spread of disease.

Limit visitors

People are capable of transporting and transmitting diseases, especially if they have had recent contact with other birds. The best strategy is to prohibit visitors if possible. Otherwise, ensure that any visitors wear clean clothing and boots. Proper hand washing techniques should be implemented before and after the handling of any birds.

Isolate new birds

New birds should be kept separate and monitored for at least 30 days before being introduced into your flock. Birds returning from shows/exhibits should also be isolated for at least two weeks.

If there is any indication that your birds are sick, it is very important to contact your local veterinarian. Early diagnosis, treatment and reporting can greatly reduce the damaging effects of disease.

All livestock and poultry producers are required to register with the Provincial Premises Identification (PID), no matter how many or how few animals or birds they may have. PID facilitates linking livestock and poultry to geographic locations, which is critical to accurately prepare for, respond to and recover from animal health issues and emergencies such as an outbreak of AI.

For more information visit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website at www.inspection.gc.ca and search “bird-health-basics.”

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