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Officials send warnings about backyard chickens and bird flu

Canadian Food Inspection Agency gives advice to prevent deadly disease
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is warning owners of backyard chickens to take precautions against contracting the bird flu, including making sure the coop is secure and clean (Black Press file image)

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is warning people with backyard chickens to take extra steps to ensure their hens don’t contract avian influenza (AI).

More commonly known as the bird flu, this disease can cause illness and sudden death in birds and is also transferable to humans, who would experience severe flu symptoms.

The most common way for domestic hens to contract AI is through contact with wild birds, said Dr. Abed Harchaoui, national manager of terrestrial epidemiology for the CFIA.

“The origin of transmission is fecal matter, so if a wild bird is leaving fecal matter where there is domestic poultry or if there’s contamination of the feed or water then there is a huge chance that disease can be transmitted,” he said.

Harchaoui also said physical contact between birds could transfer the disease, and that the most common carriers are waterfowl like ducks and geese.

Symptoms among birds can include loss of appetite, lethargy, low egg counts, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, swelling around the head, neck and eyes and sudden death.

If an owner suspects their birds are carrying the disease, Harchaoui said that they should contact their vet. They can also contact the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, or the CFIA district offices.

He also recommended several steps to decrease the chance of contamination. These include:

  • Preventing contact with wild birds and other animals by ensuring there is good space and physical barriers between the coop and the wild
  • Properly cleaning the coop and equipment, and always cleaning hands, clothing and footwear before and after handling birds. These cleaning measures will also prevent the spread of other illnesses and bacteria such as Salmonella.
  • Reporting any suspected illness to authorities as soon as possible
  • Limiting exposure between birds and visitors
  • Keeping any new or returning birds in quarantine for at least two weeks before introducing them to the rest of the flock

These tips are further explained in a video put out by the CFIA:

Harchaoui said there aren’t any current cases of the bird flu being reported, and that the CFIA simply wants owners to take the right precautions.

The most recent case of avian influenza was in Fraser Valley in 2014 where two backyard poultry flocks were contaminated.

For more information on avian influenza you can visit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website.