Not quite a year ago we got the first word of an outbreak of H5 avian influenza among British Columbian poultry farms, one which was eventually determined to be highly pathogenic (HPAI) and genetically closely related to the H5N8 outbreak in Asia.
In short order, we were seeing related H5N2, H5N8, and H5N1 viruses spreading across North American poultry farms and wild birds, kicking off the worst epizootic in American history.
The last reported poultry outbreaks were in early summer, and only one wild bird (a mallard in Utah) has reportedly tested positive since then. The expectation, however, is that HPAI H5 will return this fall and winter and once again threaten poultry operations.
Over the summer and fall very aggressive surveillance systems have been put in place both in the United States and Canada (see APHIS/USDA Announce Updated Fall Surveillance Programs For Avian Flu). Among these setting up stations where duck hunters can have their birds swabbed and tested.
Ducks are the natural reservoir for avian influenza viruses, can often carry them without ill effect, and the the logical place to find the virus first.
Which brings us to a media report this morning from Vancouver, B.C., stating a recently submitted duck has tested positive for the H5N2 virus. It is lacking in detail (collection location, date, who confirmed the tests, etc.), and as it is still the wee hours on the west coast, I’ve not found any official government reports confirming this story.
While I would stress this an unofficial media report for now, it wouldn’t be surprising if this were true, as we’ve been awaiting the return of HPAI H5 for several months. First the report, then I’ll return with a bit more.
Vancouver, BC, Canada / News Talk 980 CKNW | Vancouver's News. Vancouver's Talk
November 26, 2015 10:09 pm
A case of the Avian Flu virus has been confirmed in the Fraser Valley, after a duck was shot by a hunter earlier this week or on the weekend.
Ray Nickels from the BC Poultry Association confirmed the presence of the H5N2 virus, but says there’s little to fear.
“There’s no human risk here at all, it has to do with our industry concerns and about our bird health, but it is very dangerous for poultry flocks.”
Nickels says birds like ducks are carriers of the avian flu.
But he says strict regulations should protect commercial poultry.
“I think it’s fairly unlikely, given the strategies we have in place and that it is a wild duck, it’s not something that would be comingling with our poultry flocks.”
No word yet from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Hard hit North American poultry famers have had a long summer to prepare for the return of avian flu, and have received an abundance of guidance on beefing up biosecurity from both Canadian (see Canada: CFIA Biosecurity Warning on Avian Influenza) and American (see APHIS: HPAI Biosecurity Self-Assessment Checklist) agricultural agencies.
Despite the upbeat assessment of their readiness in the media report above, only time will tell how successful these preparations will be in preventing outbreaks in poultry.
The good news is that the strain of HPAI H5 that arrived in North America last fall, while related to several highly dangerous H5 viruses (H5N1, H5N6), has not been shown to infect humans. With any luck, that won’t change this fall or winter.
As one would expect, last June the CDC issued a HAN:HPAI H5 Exposure, Human Health Investigations & Response, providing specific guidance to local health authorities.
For now, the threat posed by HPAI to humans in North America appears to be low. Something we examined in greater depth last July in EID Journal: Infection Risk To Those Exposed To HPAI H5 Viruses – United States.
The detection of H5N2 in a hunted duck is neither alarming or unexpected. It should, however, spur both backyard and commercial poultry producers to complete their biosecurity preparations for this winter.
Additional information for the poultry farmer is available at http://www.poultrybiosecurity.org/, which provides a large, and constantly updated compendium of videos, documents, and PDF files on biosecurity.