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When bird flu makes the birds rain…

The discoveries of bird carcasses have been multiplying on the beaches of eastern Quebec for a few weeks, victims of the ravages of a particularly virulent avian flu which worries many.

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“Most farmers in North America are on the alert,” says Bruno Larue, professor in the agri-food economics department at Laval University. They take a lot of precautions to protect their breeding.

The wave of wild birds found dead has producers fearing the worst, adds researcher and professor Magella Guillemette, from the University of Quebec at Rimouski.


When bird flu makes the birds rain...

“For some breeders, it’s catastrophic. Health institutions demand that birds infected with bird flu be slaughtered. If such a virus enters our farms in Quebec, it will have significant economic impacts, ”he insists.

He worries about the long-term repercussions, as:

  • Hundreds of dead wild birds are recorded in the Magdalen Islands
  • We find as many on the side of Rimouski
  • 75 in Perce
  • And nearly 1,000 carcasses of common eiders and gulls were counted on the islands of the RCMs of Kamouraska, Rivière-du-Loup, Témiscouata and the Basques.
  • 35 southern neighbor states are also affected
  • In Quebec, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has identified seven contaminated farms for a total of 244,000 dead birds. The most affected provinces are Alberta (29 locations) and Ontario (26).

Never seen

According to analyzes of specimens from different regions sent to the laboratory, avian flu is involved in several cases.

The avian flu crisis that is hitting right now is unprecedented in North America for many professionals in the field, according to a professor from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Montreal.

“You can take a veterinarian with 30 or 35 years of experience in the field and I can assure you that he has never seen an attack of avian flu as widespread as this in his career,” says veterinary professor Carl Gagnon. .

“We have seen specific outbreaks of avian influenza that were very well controlled in the past. It was nothing like what we live today, ”he says.

Since the first case of avian influenza in Newfoundland in December 2021, the virus, which originated in Asia and Europe, has mutated a few times.

Like covid-19

“The virus has evolved over time and currently we find ourselves with strains, a bit like COVID-19, indicates veterinarian Carl Gagnon. It’s already different […] It infects all birds in a very contagious way and it is transmitted very easily in all species. The virus has been found in nearly twenty different birds. This promotes its spread on the territory.

Although in general wild birds are natural carriers of avian influenza, causing occasional mortalities, the strain which is transmitted today is more devastating than in the past.


When bird flu makes the birds rain...

Courtesy Pauline Martigny

This explains the abnormally high number of deaths this year in Quebec.

Rare cases of avian flu began to be detected in Quebec in April and multiplied rapidly. The highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza virus is now present in all Canadian provinces, as well as in the United States.

Symptoms of this flu include decreased energy and appetite, reduced egg production and quality, lack of coordination and sometimes death.

Transported by migratory birds, it causes deaths, particularly in aquatic birds such as geese, barnacles and gulls.

Increased monitoring

If the discoveries of dead birds have shocked local residents and islanders, they are also worrying because of the risks of transmission of the flu to poultry farms that we consume.

“We are intensely monitoring the flu to prevent it from causing significant damage when it enters a poultry farm, assures Ariane Massé, biologist of the Division of biosecurity and health of wild animals of the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks. Wild birds are in a way the sentinels that allow us to follow the progression of the virus, in order to be able to increase the vigilance of farmed poultry.

This situation can result in high economic damage; Tens of thousands of ducks had to be euthanized in April at the breeding sites of a company in the Eastern Townships after avian flu was detected there.

“I hope to continue to see a decrease in cases in the coming weeks. Producers need to stay tuned. It’s crucial,” underlines Mr. Larue.

Calm in sight

“The avian flu epidemic is causing great stress for poultry and egg producers and we will do everything in our power to help them get through this crisis”, assured us the Federal Minister of Agriculture, Marie-Claude Bibeau.

In the long term, however, avian influenza is likely to return regularly, according to Professor Gagnon. But in the short term, however, the peak of the bird flu crisis may have been reached. Carl Gagnon expects a period of calm in the coming weeks, due to the end of the bird migration period.

– With the collaboration of Juliette Babin, Michel Bellemare and Frédéric Marcoux

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