Bird flu continues to expand in southwestern B.C.

Eight poultry farms in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley are now infected with H5N2, a virulent and highly contagious form of avian influenza.

Harpreet Kochhar, chief veterinarian with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, confirmed the total earlier today after two broiler-breeder operations within three kilometres of the first infected barn near Abbotsford were found to be infected.

Kochhar said spread of the virus was not unexpected given its highly infectious nature, and another farm was also under investigation.

In total, 155,000 turkeys and chickens will be destroyed in efforts to control spread. Kochhar said all birds in the first four infected barns had been humanely euthanized and the process was underway at the fifth operation.

The CFIA has established a primary control zone around the affected poultry operations and movement in the region has been restricted.

Kochhar said information on the control zone has been shared with Canada’s trading partners. Eight countries have now imposed restrictions on poultry and/or poultry products from either the Fraser Valley, the province of B.C. or from all of Canada.

It is hoped that word of the control zone will allow other countries to limit their trade restrictions to products from the Fraser Valley region.

Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States have all imposed some type of restriction as of today.

Avian influenza poses no threat to food safety or to humans providing birds and meat are properly handled.

The source of the virus in B.C. and its method of spread remain under investigation.

Kochhar said it is unlikely to have been spread by wild birds, based upon ongoing surveillance. There has been no increase in wild bird mortality in the affected region, he said.

Compared to an avian flu outbreak in 2010, in which 16 million birds were destroyed, Kochhar said the current outbreak is minuscule.

However, he cautioned that the extent of this event remains to be seen.

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