|By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — As the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) works with federal officials to prevent an outbreak of avian influenza (AI), commonly referred to as bird flu, a federal ban has been placed on poultry imports from the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC).
The interim ban was announced last week after a duck at a BC commercial poultry farm tested positive for the virus.
Though Canadian officials said this particular strain is a low-pathogenic, North American form that doesn’t kill poultry and is not a threat to people, the ban was still placed with Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan following suit.
Dr. Brian Evans, chief veterinarian officer for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said at a news conference that the duck was not even sick.
“We do recognize that we’re dealing with an extremely hypersensitive environment,” he said. “We feel that the request from the U.S. is not totally unreasonable.”
Evans said Canada would have preferred the United States take no action since the virus is different from the one in Asia.
“That would have been consistent with how we’ve treated low-path findings in the United States previously,” he said. “But again, we’re working in an extremely sensitive international environment at this point.”
USDA spokesman Jim Rogers said, depending on the results, the United States could restrict imports from a smaller area.
“We’re waiting to get more information from Canada, at which point we could be able to scale back the ban,” said USDA spokesman Jim Rogers. “We just need that information.”
The virulent form of the virus known as H5N1 has been found in Southeast Asia, and now, in Eastern Europe, The virus has caused the death or slaughter of millions of birds and is blamed for more than 60 human deaths. Last week, the Russian Agriculture Ministry confirmed that roughly 250 swans were found dead on the Volga delta near the Caspian Sea due to bird flu.
The farm with the infected duck, which is located near Vancouver, is not licensed to export. Authorities have begun killing about 56,000 birds on the farm and have quarantined four other farms within three miles of the area.
A 2004 bird flu outbreak in British Columbia prompted the killing of 17 million birds.
While no cases of AI have been discovered in Kentucky, officials here aren’t taking any chances.
“We understand the public’s concerns about avian influenza,” said state veterinarian Robert C. Stout. “The state and our public and private partners have procedures in place to minimize the risk of an outbreak and to eradicate the disease if an outbreak occurs.”
Stout advises owners of small backyard poultry flocks to be especially vigilant for AI. Signs include sneezing, coughing, swelling, discoloration, lack of energy and appetite, diarrhea and problems with egg production. In some cases the only sign of the virus is sudden death.
Anyone who sees signs of the disease in their flocks should contact their veterinarian and the KDA immediately, Stout added.
He said small operators should do whatever they can to keep their flocks away from wild and migratory birds, as well as keep their birds away from water that may have been contaminated by wild and migratory birds.
Farmers are advised not to bring birds from other farms or from live bird markets onto their farms.
The KDA recommends farmers to ensure cleanliness in their operations - keeping buildings, equipment and vehicles clean and disinfected. Changing clothes and shoes before and after working with birds, providing clean clothes for employees and avoiding borrowed or loaned equipment from other farms.
What is Bird Flu?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said bird flu is an infection caused by AI viruses.
While these flu viruses occur naturally among birds, wild birds from all over the world can carry the viruses in their intestines and not get sick. However, bird flu is highly contagious among birds and can make some domestic fowl, such as chickens, ducks and turkeys, sick enough to cause death.
AI viruses can also affect pheasants, quail, geese and guinea fowl as well as a wide variety of other birds.
AI viruses can be classified into low-pathogenic (LPAI) and high-pathogenic (HPAI) strains based on the severity of the illness they cause. HPAI is an extremely infectious and fatal form of the disease that, once established, can spread rapidly from flock to flock.
However, some LPAI virus strains are capable of mutating under field conditions into HPAI viruses.
Can humans get infected?
Historically, the risk to human health has been low, but there have been as many as 100 cases reported in the current outbreak; prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to express concern that it could change so it could spread from one person to another.
At this point, only people who have come in contact with sick birds or contaminated materials have fallen ill from the disease.
According to the WHO, “The widespread persistence of H5N1 in poultry populations poses two main risks for human health. The first is the risk of direct infection when the virus passes from poultry to humans, resulting in very severe disease. Of the few avian influenza viruses that have crossed the species barrier to infect humans, H5N1 has caused the largest number of cases of severe disease and death in humans.
“Unlike normal seasonal influenza, where infection causes only mild respiratory symptoms in most people, the disease caused by H5N1 follows an unusually aggressive clinical course, with rapid deterioration and high fatality. Primary viral pneumonia and multi-organ failure are common. In the present outbreak, more than half of those infected with the virus have died. Most cases have occurred in previously healthy children and young adults.
“A second risk, of even greater concern, is that the virus – if given enough opportunities – will change into a form that is highly infectious for humans and spreads easily from person to person. Such a change could mark the start of a global outbreak (a pandemic).”
For more information, visit the WHO website at http://www.who.int/en or the KDA website at www.kyagr.com
This Midwest farm news was published in the November 30, 2005 issue of Farm World.