According to wildlife experts, the deadly strain of bird flu that is decimating the Canadian poultry industry is also killing an extraordinary number of wild birds and even leaping into mammals, killing a pair of young foxes near Saint Mary Aunt.
As of Thursday, at least 68 poultry farms across the country have been affected by the virus, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said, killing an estimated 1.7 million birds. The provinces hardest hit are Alberta, followed by Ontario, with 23 farms each affected.
Wildlife experts say bird flu usually only affects waterfowl, but this strain, referred to as highly pathogenic avian influenza, or highly pathogenic avian influenza, has affected a wide range of wild birds, including waterfowl, and birds (such as crows and bluebirds), gulls, and birds of prey. .
However, the most surprising casualty so far has been a pair of juvenile red foxes that recently died of bird flu near Saint Mary’s.
Arrival of the ‘related’ HPAI variant
“These foxes were eating raw meat from infected animals,” said Brian Stevens, a wildlife pathologist at the University of Guelph.
Stevens performs autopsies of wild animals dying under unusual circumstances in Ontario and Nunavut for the Canadian Society of Wildlife Health.
“So far, we’ve only seen it in groups. These are groups that are only five to six weeks old and I don’t know yet if it affected adults as well, so this is something we’re watching to run.”
Stevens said the highly virulent strain of bird flu was first detected in Ontario’s wildlife in mid-March and that infections were increasing. As of the beginning of May, the virus had been detected 55 times in wild animals, an increase of three to four times what it would normally see in its own number of cases.
“The variant that is out now affects a lot of wildlife, which is not something we usually see. So the fact that they are jumping [to foxes] It causes severe disease and death in Canada geese and a number of different species of raptors. “
This concern is part of the reason why some Ontario wildlife rescue groups — including the Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Mount Bridges — stop taking sick or dying birds. Brian Salt, the group’s founder, said he didn’t want to risk introducing the highly contagious virus into his or his neighbors’ operations.
“Like a burning fuse in a powder keg”
“We are like a burning fuse in a powder keg,” he said close to his wildlife hub of dozens of poultry farms in southwestern Ontario in the Strathroy Carradoc region.
“This virus is devastating to the poultry industry. We could be a huge threat to business here and we don’t want to do that.”
Salt said that while his facility has stopped hunting wild birds for this year, it still has a number of resident raptors that serve as teaching aids in public speeches. He said employees must now wear full personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, while handling birds of prey to avoid becoming ill.
“We can’t afford to lose them,” he said of the trained birds, some of which he’s owned for more than 15 years.
Salt said his center normally receives 75 birds annually, but he had to turn down all requests for assistance this year to mitigate the risks.
“It’s devastating for a lot of people because they might have a nest of babies who need medical attention and we just have to say no. It hurts on both sides of the phone.”
We could be a huge threat to business here and we don’t want to do that.– Brian Salt, Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
It’s only expected to get more painful, according to bird experts, who expect the first wave of disease to peak with the peak of the spring migration later this month. After that, the virus is expected to remain low until wild birds begin to migrate south this fall.
The threat to humans is low, according to the Ontario Department of Natural Resources and Forests, but people are advised not to engage with sick or dying wildlife.
Hunters are advised to wear disposable gloves and follow appropriate handling instructions when handling game birds or other wildlife.
In terms of how long this bird flu pandemic will last, experts aren’t sure. But given the fact that the same strain hit Europe a year ago, and appears to still affect commercial and wild birds, the virus may be with us for a while.