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A Snapshot of Avian Influenza for the Saskatchewan Poultry Producer

By Dr. Erica Sims, DVM, MSc, Animal Health Veterinarian, Livestock Branch, Regina

This year, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has responded to an unprecedented number of cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in domestic poultry across Canada since the first infected farm was identified in Newfoundland in December 2021. Since then, HPAI has been reported across the nation in both wild birds and poultry.

Two chickens in a commercial barn
Two chickens in a commercial barn

Avian influenza is a federally reportable disease under the Health of Animals Act. This virus, commonly known as the “bird-flu,” affects food-producing poultry including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and quails, as well as companion birds and wild birds. The current strain of HPAI spread rapidly across North America and the globe and caused a high rate of death in several species of birds making it a highly pathogenic and severe form of the virus.

Saskatchewan had its first detection in a domestic poultry flock by April 2022. The last time HPAI was detected in poultry in the province was during the 2007 avian influenza outbreak.

Outbreaks of avian influenza in domestic poultry usually coincide with migration patterns of wild birds. Poultry with access to the outdoors are at a higher risk of exposure to avian influenza because of the potential contact with wild birds or contaminated environments—meaning domestic poultry from small holdings and backyard flocks are at increased risk of contracting HPAI.

Producers can safeguard and maintain flock health through the following biosecurity practices:

  1. Prevent direct contact with wild birds and contaminated environments, feed, water, equipment or clothing. Fencing and proper storage of feed can limit contamination from wild birds.
  2. Maintain cleanliness through proper cleaning and disinfection of equipment and facilities. Equipment should not be shared or borrowed from other bird owners. Barn specific clothing and footwear should be dedicated to each barn and should be routinely cleaned and changed.
  3. Limit on-farm visitors, especially those in recent contact with other birds. Any visitors should wear clean clothing and boots. Provide boot covers or use a disinfectant foot bath when entering and leaving the barn. Proper handwashing should be implemented before and after handling birds. Employees, visitors or other personnel should not contact any birds if they are sick.
  4. Isolate new birds and monitor for thirty days before flock introduction. Comingling of birds at shows, exhibits or other communal events may be prohibited during an active outbreak of avian influenza. Following such comingling events, it is best practice to isolate participating birds for at least two weeks.

Signs of avian influenza in domestic poultry may include sudden death of birds, a high number of deaths, decreased energy, appetite and egg production, swelling around the head, neck and eyes, coughing, sneezing or difficulties breathing and tremors or lack of co-ordination. Report any ill birds to your flock veterinarian and contact your local CFIA district office if HPAI is suspected. Early reporting can greatly limit the spread and impact of this deadly disease.

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