Bird flu: Bird carcasses multiply on the beaches

In recent weeks, the number of carcasses found on the beaches of eastern Quebec has been increasing, victims of the ravages of a particularly virulent avian influenza, which worries many.

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“Most farmers in North America are on high alert,” says Bruno Larue, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Food Economics at Laval University. They take many precautions to protect their brood.

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

Bird flu: Bird carcasses multiply on the beaches

“It is disastrous for some growers. Health facilities require that birds infected with avian influenza be slaughtered. If such a virus enters our farms in Quebec, there will be a significant economic impact,” he stresses.

He worries about the long-term effects because:

  • Hundreds of dead wild birds are recorded on the Magdalen Islands
  • We find just as many on Rimouski’s side
  • 75 in percent
  • And almost 1,000 carcasses of eider ducks and gulls were counted on the islands of the RCMs Kamouraska, Rivière-du-Loup, Témiscouata and the Basques.
  • 35 southern neighboring countries are also affected
  • In Quebec, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has identified seven contaminated farms with a total of 244,000 dead birds. The hardest-hit provinces are Alberta (29 locations) and Ontario (26).

never seen

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

According to a professor at the University of Montreal’s School of Veterinary Medicine, the current avian flu crisis is unprecedented for many professionals in North America.

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

“We have seen specific outbreaks of bird flu that have been very well controlled in the past. It wasn’t what we live today,” he says.

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

Like COVID-19

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

Although wild birds are generally natural vectors of avian influenza and occasionally cause fatalities, the strain transmitted today is more devastating than in the past.

Bird flu: Bird carcasses multiply on the beaches

Courtesy of Pauline Martigny

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

Rare cases of bird flu have been reported in Quebec since April and have been multiplying rapidly. The highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza virus is now present in all Canadian provinces and in the United States.

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

Transported by migratory birds, it causes fatalities, particularly among waterfowl such as geese, barnacles, and gulls.

Increased Surveillance

If the discovery of dead birds has shocked local residents and islanders, they are also concerned about the risks of flu transmission from the poultry farms we consume.

“We are closely monitoring the flu to prevent it from causing significant damage if it enters a poultry farm,” assures Ariane Massé, biologist at the Department of Biosecurity and Wildlife Health at the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks. In a way, wild birds are the sentinels that allow us to track the progression of the virus to increase the vigilance of farmed poultry.

This situation can lead to high economic damage; Tens of thousands of ducks had to be euthanized at a company’s hatcheries in the Eastern Townships in April after avian flu was found there.

“I hope cases will continue to fall in the coming weeks. Producers have to stay tuned. That’s crucial,” emphasizes Mr. Larue.

calm in sight

“The bird 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 German Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.

In the long term, however, bird flu is likely to return regularly, says Professor Gagnon. In the short term, however, the peak of the bird flu crisis is likely to have been reached. Due to the end of the bird migration period, Carl Gagnon expects a period of rest in the coming weeks.

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

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