Avian flu found in 2 more B.C. flocks; refuge seeing cases in wild birds

The highly pathogenic strain of avian flu that has B.C.’s poultry industry on alert has now been detected in two more flocks of domestic birds in the province, this time in Richmond and Kelowna.

The two latest sites were identified on May 3rd, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and both are small flocks. The infected premises are now under quarantine.

In total, four small flocks of domestic birds and one commercial poultry operation have have tested positive in the province.

The virus has also been showing up in multiple wild birds, according to a Metro Vancouver rehabilitation facility.

General manager Rob Hope with the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in Delta said they’ve recently seen about four positive cases come in, as well as six that are considered suspicious. They saw their first positive case in March.

Most of the impacted birds have been eagles, and the few that have survived so far are being kept in a separate quarantine from the other birds that live at the facility. Hope said there has also been one previous case of H5N1 in a Cooper’s hawk, and a suspected case in a Peregrine falcon.

“We’re getting them from mostly the local area here, Delta, Vancouver. We did have one positive from Bowen Island,” he said. “Unfortunately, the death rate is quite high, and it’s been within 24 hours.”

The society has also set up an examination tent outside, with a disinfectant foot wash for those entering. When a suspected case arrives, swabs are taken and sent for testing. Birds that have died are kept in a freezer, and will also be sent off for further analysis.

Hope said, in a bird of prey, symptoms of the virus can manifest as neurological signs such as “star-gazing,” where the bird stares upward, as well as dull, swollen eyes and a swollen face.

“If somebody comes across a bird of prey that they think may (have) avian flu, please give us a call,” Hope said, and added they still also want to hear from people who find birds that are injured.

“We’re set up to deal with the ones that are positive, but there’s going to be a lot that aren’t positive, but are injured or orphaned and need our help as well.”

Warning: The following video shows an eagle siffering from avian flu and might be disturbing to some viewers. 

The quarantined birds that have survived so far will be kept isolated for 30 days and then re-tested.

“There is a chance (of survival), but the long-term effects is another thing we’re unsure of,” Hope said. “If they’re negative, then we can continue rehab.”

There’s also concern the virus could be passed from adult birds to fledglings in the nest through the consumption of infected waterfowl.

Though the virus is not thought to pose a significant risk to people generally, volunteers caring for the birds are also taking extra precautions.

“In the last three days, I spent $1500 on PPE (personal protective equipment), from gowns, to fungicides, viricides,” Hope said. “Currently right now we’re looking for donations of PPE, whether they be gowns, masks, booties, as well as monetary. This is not going to go away anytime soon, and we are in for the long haul.”

People can also report any discoveries of deceased wild birds to the Wild Bird Network at 1-866-431-BIRD.

The first flock of domestic birds in B.C. with confirmed positive cases was a commercial poultry operation in the North Okanagan on April 13th. On April 25, the virus was detected in a small flock of non-poultry birds in Kelowna, and then two days later in a small poultry flock in the Kootenay region.