Poultry producers are taking all the precautions they can against highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), Manitoba Chicken Producers says.(File)

While the return of Canada geese and other migratory birds are a sure sign of spring, poultry producers in Manitoba say the familiar April sight carries a grim warning.

After 21 confirmed cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), also known as bird flu, hit the province last year, leading to the death or euthanization of 287,000 birds, poultry groups and farmers are preparing for an increased threat of the disease, which commonly originates with migratory birds.

While producers can’t know how wild migratory birds may effect commercial flocks in Manitoba, they are taking all the biosecurity precautions they can, Manitoba Chicken Producers chairperson Jake Wiebe said. It’s something they’ve been doing for many years, he added.

“Avian flu itself is not new to us, but the HPAI has caused us to re-evaluate how we do bio security and how to minimize risk,” Wiebe said.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) anticipates a high level of avian influenza will continue to circulate in wild birds and the risk of bird flu for domestic poultry will increase during the spring and fall migration periods.

Evidence indicates the avian influenza virus circulates naturally in wild birds and waterfowl and spreads through migratory birds, a CFIA spokesperson told the Sun.

Wild birds are the cause of most introductions of bird flu into agricultural facilities in Canada. Highly transmissible, once in a flock, it can pass directly from bird to bird or indirectly through contaminated feed, water or equipment. The primary source of infection of farmed birds across the country is most likely contact or contamination from the wild bird population.

Effective biosecurity measures are extremely important, the CFIA said.

Recommendations include: preventing wild birds from coming into contact with poultry and their food and water; maintaining strict control over access to poultry houses, and limiting access to people who must be there; requiring that anyone who enters a poultry barn or pen disinfects their footwear, washes their hands and wears clean clothing.

Producers should also ensure equipment is cleaned and disinfected before taking it into poultry houses, avoid having bird feeders and duck ponds close to poultry barns, maintain high sanitation standards and, when possible, avoid purchasing new birds.

The bedding used for poultry — most often wheat straw coming off fields in fall — can sometimes hold infectious HPAI viruses. To deal with that, Wiebe said barns are heated early, since the incubation period for the virus is only two or three days in a warm, dry environment.

If proper precautions are taken, there’s no reason poultry producers shouldn’t feel optimistic this year, Wiebe said.

“I would suggest that producers be cautious but not worry as we enter into the spring migratory season. We plan to continue being vigilant to mitigate the risk as the geese pass through.”

As of March 3, no cases of avian flu had been reported in Manitoba, according to a report form the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative. The last confirmed case occurred last November.

Consumers also needn’t worry about bird flu when eating poultry, the CFIA said.

“There is no evidence to suggest that eating thoroughly cooked poultry, game meat or eggs transmits avian influenza to humans,” the spokesperson wrote.

By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 15, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Brandon Sun   Brandon, Manitoba
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