June 20, 2006

Canada finds no high-risk bird flu in suspect flock

By David Ljunggren and Marcy Nicholson

OTTAWA/WINNIPEG (Reuters) - A backyard flock of geese,
ducks and chickens in Eastern Canada was not infected with the
highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu strain, officials said on
Tuesday, dismissing fears that the strain might have arrived in
North America for the first time.

The fears had been aroused after a gosling in the small
flock in Prince Edward Island died, and a lab in Eastern Canada
examined it and found evidence of H5 avian flu.

But the officials said on Tuesday that Canada's national
laboratory in Winnipeg, Manitoba, had not been able to
reproduce the virus found by the Eastern lab.

The officials told a conference call announcing their test
results that there was no risk to people, to other animals, or
to the environment.

"It may have been H5N1 but it wouldn't have been the H5N1
that we have concerns about, in other words the Asian strain,"
said Dr. Jim Clark, veterinarian for the Canadian Food
Inspection Agency.

The highly pathogenic H5N1 avian flu virus only
occasionally infects people, but when it does, the fatality
rate is high. It has killed 130 people in nine countries, and
is also marked by a high mortality rate in birds.

Clark said the highly pathogenic virus has a relatively
long life span, and would have survived the journey to the
Winnipeg lab.

He said the bird probably had a low pathogen virus, but its
cause of death remains a "matter of conjecture."

The bird flu scare started last Friday after officials said
the gosling had tested positive for H5 avian flu, and they were
carrying out further tests to determine what strain of the
disease it had.

The bird was part of a noncommercial flock of 35 to 40
chickens, geese and ducks in Prince Edward Island, a province
with only seven commercial chicken farms, none of them within a
10 km (6 mile) radius of the affected farm.

Not all H5 viruses are highly pathogenic and Canada has had
low pathogenic bird flu outbreaks in the past.

The low pathogenic H5N2 strain was discovered in British
Columbia in November 2005. The birds did not show signs of
illness, but 60,000 ducks and geese were culled.

There was a highly pathogenic case of H5N9 bird flu in 1966
and a case of high pathogenic H7N3 in 2004.

The flock where the dead Prince Edward Island gosling was
found was culled and a neighboring backyard flock was
quarantined briefly. Clark said results from tests on the birds
on this farm were also negative, and the CFIA will lift the

"We can reasonably say, based on the information we have
available, it's unlikely that there was an avian influenza
virus that killed these goslings," Clark said.

The original backyard farm will remain under quarantine
until testing is finished.