Avian flu viruses in Canada not dangerous, officials say

Nov 21, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Canadian officials said yesterday they would destroy all the poultry on a British Columbia farm where a duck was found to be carrying a low-pathogenic H5 avian influenza virus.

That announcement came 2 days after the Canadian government reported the identification of a low-pathogenic strain of H5N1 virus in wild birds in Manitoba and other flu viruses in wild birds in British Columbia and Quebec.

Officials said none of the viruses are considered dangerous to humans or highly pathogenic for birds. Despite its name, the H5N1 virus found in two ducks in Manitoba is unrelated to the H5N1 virus plaguing poultry and sickening some humans in Asia, they said.

"I want to emphasize the H5N1 subtype detected in Manitoba is completely distinct from the strain currently present in Asia," the Canadian Press (CP) quoted Dr. Brian Evans, Canada's chief veterinary officer, as saying.

Dr. Arlene King, head of respiratory diseases for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said the H5N1 strain found in the Manitoba birds has been seen previously in North America, according to the CP.

British Columbia flock to be destroyed
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced Nov 18 that a farm east of Vancouver would be quarantined after a duck was found infected with an avian flu virus. Yesterday officials identified the virus as a low-pathogenic H5 North American strain and said the poultry there would be destroyed as a precaution, though the virus would be likely to cause only mild disease, if any, in exposed birds.

The farm, near Chilliwack, is in the same area where an outbreak of H7N3 avian flu forced the culling of millions of poultry in the spring of 2004. The CFIA said the plan to destroy the flock is in line with recommendations made after the 2004 outbreak and guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The CP report said about 60,000 birds would be killed.

Viruses found in wild birds
In a Nov 19 announcement, the CFIA said testing of samples from the wild-bird survey revealed "low-pathogenic North America subtypes H5N3 in Quebec birds, H5N1 in Manitoba, and H5N9 and H5N2 in British Columbia." Officials first announced in October that the survey had revealed flu viruses in a number of wild birds in the three provinces.

The CFIA said the four strains have all been seen previously in North America and are not a threat to animal health with biosecurity measures now in effect. "The Public Health Agency of Canada has been working with the CFIA on the testing and has determined that there is no information in these findings suggesting a new threat to human health," the statement added.

"The good news is there is no Asian strain in any of the wildlife," a Nov 19 Reuters report quoted Evans as saying. He said the survey included testing of 4,800 birds from seven provinces.

UN plans avian flu early warning system
In other news, United Nations officials said they plan to set up an early warning system to alert countries of incoming migratory birds that could be carrying avian flu viruses, according to Associated Press (AP) and Reuters reports.

Plans for the system were announced at an international wildlife conference in Nairobi, Kenya, the AP reported yesterday. Marco Barbieri of the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals said a pilot project should be operational in 6 months and the full system in 2 years.

The Reuters report said plans call for a team of experts to collect information, maps, and charts from government and conservation organizations. Robert Hepworth of the UN said the information would be used in a computer system that would constantly monitor bird migration patterns and warn countries of potential threats. That will enable local authorities to give advice to people in affected areas, officials said.

The UN Environment Programme is setting up the system, which is expected to cost between $200,000 and $300,000, Reuters reported.

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