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Avian influenza cases confirmed in western Quebec

The highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been detected in western Quebec, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) says.

Dr. Harpreet S. Kochhar, president of the CFIA, says a primary control zone for the disease, also known as bird flu, has been declared in an area around Saint-André-Avellin, Que., about 80 kilometres northeast of Ottawa.

Mayor Jean-René Carrière said he was unavailable for an interview Monday, saying only that the provincial agriculture ministry confirms a farm in the area has been affected.

Commercial or non-commercial poultry are “capable of being infected or contaminated by the disease. Anyone with birds must practice good biosecurity habits to protect poultry and prevent disease,” says Kochhar.

“This includes day-old poultry and hatching eggs, eggs and other products or by-products of such captive domestic poultry, and things that have been exposed to such a bird,” explained Kochhar.

HPAI is not a food safety concern and there is no evidence to suggest that eating cooked poultry or eggs could transmit HPAI to humans, reads the CFIA’s website.

Around 7.9 million birds have been impacted in Canada as of Nov. 2, 2023, according to the CFIA’s website. British Columbia has the highest number of birds impacted, followed by Alberta and Quebec. 

Experts say influenza is deadly for poultry birds not because of the virus itself, but because of the policy around the flu in coops.

When a poultry bird has contracted a highly transmissible subtype of avian flu, all birds that have come in contact with the animal will be killed to prevent further spread, the CFIA website reads.

But with cases in wild birds, transmission is not so strictly controlled. The virus often spreads without being checked, and some experts warn it is already mutating to infect other species.

“The more the virus is allowed to circulate, the more it’s allowed to evolve and change,” said Jennifer Provencher, a research scientist in the Ecotoxicology and Wildlife Health Division of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The latest subtype of avian flu is unlike any other scientists have seen in Canada, Provencher noted.

“The H5N1 has caused such widespread mortality that I think we can pretty confidently say that within living memory, no avian influenza has affected wild birds in the same capacity,” she said.

“Just like humans, as the birds congregate on the landscape during migration, they pass it to each other – just like we would pass the flu to each other. When they go into their kind of nesting zones, they spread out in the landscape, and that transmission stops.”

Typically the bird flu has seasons just like human influenza does, Provencher explained.

The virus spreads through feces and the nasal and eye discharges of infected birds, according to wildlife experts and the CFIA website.

With files from CTV’s Natasha O’Neill

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