Bird flu strain found on Saskatchewan farm

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canadian veterinary officials said on Thursday they found the H7N3 strain of avian influenza on a Saskatchewan chicken farm, but noted the virus was not the deadly strain that scientists fear could cause the next flu pandemic.

“We are not dealing with the H5N1 virus that has been linked to human illness in Asia and other parts of the world,” said Sandra Stephens, a veterinarian with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

The H7N3 strain is not normally associated with human illness, the CFIA said.

The finding had little impact on livestock and grain markets. Most Canadian poultry is produced for the domestic market, and Saskatchewan, known for its large expanses of grain fields, accounts for only a small fraction of the output.

“It is a mild strain. It doesn’t appear to be a big deal,” said Paul Aho, an industry consultant with Poultry Perspective.

Canada informed the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) about the case, as well as the United States and European Union, which import some Canadian poultry products.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would ban shipments of poultry from Saskatchewan, although it has not imported poultry from the province since 2005.

“We will continue to monitor the situation closely,” said John Clifford, the USDA’s chief veterinarian.

The H7N3 strain is routinely found in a low-pathogenic form in wild ducks in North America, said Jim Clark, a senior official with the CFIA. The disease can quickly mutate into a high-pathogenic form in commercial poultry flocks, he said.

“There is a vast and total difference between an H5 and an H7 subtype,” Clark said in an interview.

The CFIA quarantined the farm, located northwest of the provincial capital of Regina, and will destroy its flock of 45,000 chickens.

Bird flu story source: Reuters

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