The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has confirmed that a small poultry flock in the Comox Valley has tested positive for the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus, which is the first case on Vancouver Island.
The infected premises has been placed under quarantine by the CFIA, and B.C.’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food has notified producers within a 12-kilometre radius about the positive test results.
In Merville at the MARS Wildlife Rescue Centre where birds are the focus of care, staff are worried about them and others that could be brought in.
“Honestly it was incredibly stressful yesterday,” said Kiersten Shyian, Assistant Manager of Wildlife Rehabilitation. “Me and my colleague kind of just had to stop and sit down and just think about it and say it’s here like we need to get moving on this now.”
B.C.’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food has notified producers within a 12-kilometre radius about the positive test results.
“We have orders that have been put in place by our Deputy Vet here in British Columbian requiring commercial flocks and anything over 100 to be kept indoors and we also have an order against co-mingling of birds and this addresses things like poultry swaps or auctions,” said Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture.
Backyard flocks have become increasingly popular on Vancouver Island. Jacquie Kinney has had one for a few years and is now taking her own precautions against the virus.
“Mostly just keep them away from wild birds, so in this case just keeping them undercover in their coop because in normal years we’ve just let them roam around the back yard,” Kinney said.
She is also heeding the advice from experts to remove birdbaths and bird feeders to prevent birds from mingling.
Other official suggested measures include eliminating or reducing opportunities for poultry to encounter wild birds, reducing human access to the flock and increasing cleaning, disinfection and sanitization of all things (including clothing and footwear) when entering areas where flocks are housed.
Back at MARS, they’re asking people to call before bringing any injured or sick wildlife to the centre, adding it could even be hard to tell if a bird has avian flu.
“It is more likely to affect things like water foul, sea birds and raptors and the water foul are usually not showing signs of the disease,” added Shyian.
Some possible signs of the virus are neurological issues, or a discharge from the nose, ears, vent, throat or mouth. And you should not a suspected sick bird with your bare hands.
The first confirmation of H5N1 in B.C. poultry was at a commercial producer in the Regional District of North Okanagan in mid-April.
Avian influenza is a federally regulated disease and the CFIA leads the investigation and response with provincial support for testing, mapping, surveillance and disposal.
Wild birds have also tested positive for H5 strains of avian influenza in or near 100 Mile House, Bowen Island, Chilliwack, Kelowna, Metro Vancouver, Vanderhoof and Williams Lake.
The Wild Bird Mortality Investigation Program toll-free hotline, 1 866 431-2473, accepts reports of dead wild birds from the public.