When bird flu makes the birds rain …

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

• Also read: Birds infected with bird flu near Rimouski

• Also read: Bird flu: hundreds more dead dead

“Most farmers in North America are on guard,” said Bruno Larue, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Food Economics at Laval University. They take a lot of precautions to protect their breeding.

The wave of wild birds found dead is causing producers to fear the worst, adds researcher and professor Magella Guillemette of the University of Quebec in Rimouski.

“For some breeders, it is catastrophic. Healthcare institutions are demanding that birds infected with bird flu be slaughtered. If such a virus enters our farms in Quebec, it will have significant economic consequences,” he insists.

He is concerned about the long-term consequences, such as:

– Hundreds of dead wild birds have been counted on Îles de la Madeleine

-We find just as many on the Rimouski site

-75 and Percé

-And almost 1,000 carcasses of common eider ducks and gulls were counted on the islands of the RCMs Kamouraska, Rivière-du-Loup, Témiscouata and the Basques.

-35 southern neighboring 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 places) and Ontario (26).

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

The bird 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 bird flu as widespread as this in his career,” says veterinary professor Carl Gagnon. .

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

Since the first case of bird flu in Newfoundland in December 2021, the virus, which originates from Asia and Europe, has mutated a few times.

“The virus has evolved over time, and at the moment we are with strains, a bit like COVID-19,” indicates veterinarian Carl Gagnon. It is already different […] It infects all birds in a very contagious way and it infects very easily in all species. The virus has been found in almost twenty different birds. This promotes its spread in the territory.

Although wild birds are generally natural carriers of avian influenza, causing occasional mortality, the strain transmitted today is more destructive than in the past.

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

Rare cases of bird 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, decreased egg production and quality, lack of coordination and sometimes death.

Carried by migratory birds, it causes deaths, especially in waterfowl such as geese, Canada geese and gulls.

If the discoveries of dead birds have shocked local residents and islanders, they are also worrying because of the risk of transmitting influenza to poultry farms that we eat.

“We are intensively monitoring the flu to prevent it from causing significant damage when it enters a poultry farm,” said Ariane Massé, a biologist in the Department of Biosafety and Wildlife Health at the Ministry of Forestry, Wildlife and Parks. Wild birds are on a way the sentries that allow us to follow the evolution of the virus, in order to increase the vigilance of farmed poultry.

This situation can result in major financial damage; Tens of thousands of ducks had to be killed in April on the breeding grounds of a company in Eastern Townships, after bird flu was discovered there.

“I hope to continue to see a drop in cases in the coming weeks. Manufacturers need to stay up to date. That is crucial,” Mr Larue said.

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

In the long run, however, avian flu is likely to return regularly, according to Professor Gagnon. However, in the short term, 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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