Original Published 23:53 May 26, 2022

By John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As avian influenza sweeps across Canada and throughout Alberta in particular, a local veterinarian spoke to how people can be aware of the disease and keep themselves safe.

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Kyle Dubreuil, said avian influenza is similar to the strain which typically impacts humans during flu season.

“Avian influenza is the is the exact same type of virus that the human influenza is. So, it is a virus that replicates in the cells of birds,” explained Dubreuil. “In general, it is a respiratory virus, so I think in this day and age everyone has got a lot more understanding of those things after COVID-19.”

Currently, concerns regarding avian influenza outbreaks are regarding what is called a “highly pathogenic” strain of the virus. According to Dubreuil, this definition is based on some specifics of how the virus mutates and then is passed from bird to bird.

He added avian influenza has been reported in every province across the country, both within wild bird populations as well as in the domestic and commercial poultry.

Cases of the virus are most commonly being reported in populations of waterfowl residing around lakes and wetlands. These include birds such as ducks, swans and geese. 

Dubreuil explained there was one confirmed case of a hawk having been a fatality of the avian influenza, discovered near Strathmore. This would likely have been caused by the raptor consuming another bird which was infected.

“In the past couple of months here, what everyone has been discussing is that a highly pathogenic form of it has been confirmed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in three poultry flocks within Alberta at least,” said Dubreuil. “There have been a couple of different cases in wild birds, as well as some suspicious cases in some smaller flocks.”

It is not made to be common knowledge the exact flocks which have been infected, but it is the responsibility of the Alberta government to notify people if there was a flock nearby their premises which may have been affected.

“In general, it is not something that needs to be panicked about, in my opinion,” said Dubreuil. “There is the possibility of this being zoonotic, which means the infected animals can transmit the virus to people, (but) it doesn’t happen all the time and you do, in general, have to have close contact with an infected bird.”

Low pathogenic strains tend to go around on an annual basis, similar to influenza in humans. High pathogenic cases can cause more significant levels of fowl of die off, particularly in wild populations.

For the average person who is not involved in poultry agriculture, if they see a sick or dead bird, particularly waterfowl, Dubreuil recommends to simply not touch it.

Residents are also recommended to continue practising good biosecurity, such as hand washing.

For those who are involved in or are thinking about starting with poultry, information is available via the CFIA as well as the Government of Canada and Alberta Agriculture for keeping animals safe and healthy.

This item reprinted with permission from Strathmore Times, Strathmore, Alberta