Four Fraser Valley farms are under quarantine after a highly pathogenic strain of avian flu is found.

Two Chilliwack farms among the four under quarantine

Reps are trying to quell the H5N2 avian flu, a highly pathogenic strain which affects bird mortality but not human health

Officials in the Fraser Valley are racing to quell the spread of avian flu.

Four farms are under quarantine after a ‘high path’ strain of the H5 Avian influenza was detected this week.

Two broiler farms in Chilliwack are among the four, and their locations have not been identified.

It’s also not yet known how the virus touched down on the farms, but Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) reps are working to contain the strain of highly pathogenic virus, identified as H5N2.

They’re trying to avoid a similar situation to the last time they faced a low-path strain of the virus.

They’re so much further ahead now, said Ray Nickel, spokesman for the B.C. Poultry Association.

“So much has changed,” he told The Progress on Wednesday.

Improvements, from annual inspections, and mandatory bio security, to sampling and surveillance will make a difference.

One of the key messages is a reminder to the public that “it’s an animal health issue, not a human health issue,” he said.

Cook the food properly and it poses no risk to human health.

In 2008, the B.C. agriculture ministry unveiled a new $14-million lab in Abbotsford. The lab would allow response to outbreaks “faster and more efficiently.”

The Fraser Valley as a region is “highly concentrated” with poultry farming activity, as well as dairy operations.

“That’s why we have these strategies in place,” Nickel said.

How they handle visitors, service people and contractors on their farms have changed since the incidents.

What he termed the “feather and dairy” group, meaning the poultry and dairy farmers, in fact make up 40 per cent of the farm gate in the province.

So where are they at? They’ve been down a similar road before, he said. They will be extra careful, including surrounding farms in the lockdown.

Part of the reason for the regional risk, as is being suggested, may be the high number of migratory birds passing over the Fraser Valley in particular.

“It means typically we are more at risk. But the message is we’re managing that risk,” said Nickel.

He also underlined, again, the food products are safe for the public to eat. The chicken, the turkey, the eggs, all of it.

“Farmers are concerned, worried and a bit frustrated,” he said.

On Monday the news came out that two farms were hit with H5 and two more on Wednesday. All birds have been or are slated to be euthanized and farmers compensated.

In 2004, 17 million poultry were slaughtered after an avian flu with high pathogenicity, or illness severity spread across valley farms. While 14 million were cleared to hit the market, three million diseased birds were destroyed.

Recent outbreaks were less serious.

In 2005, 60,000 birds were killed after a mild version of H5 was found at a Yarrow farm. In 2009, 41 farms were placed in quarantine and 72,000 birds were slaughtered after an H5 version was found on two farms in Abbotsford. That version of the flu was determined to be “of low pathogenicity.”

No one has become ill as a result of recent virus detection.

–with files from Tyler Olsen of the Abbotsford News

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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