Canadian Poultry Magazine

From the Editor: Unravelling the mystery of avian influenza

By Brett Ruffell   

Features Disease watch

A crucial collaborative effort has emerged in Ontario to investigate avian influenza transmission in the province. Here's a look at what it will be focused on.

Claire Jardine, Associate Professor at the University of Guelph.

In late 2021, the poultry industry in Canada faced a formidable challenge with the outbreak of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza (AI). Since then, this persistent threat has continued to loom over poultry farms, prompting urgent calls for enhanced biosecurity measures and a deeper understanding of transmission pathways. 

In response, a collaborative project has emerged in Ontario, spearheaded by Claire Jardine, Associate Professor at the University of Guelph, and Al Dam, poultry specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). This initiative aims to determine how avian influenza enters poultry barns, with the ultimate goal of fortifying preventative measures and safeguarding the industry.

“Wild birds are playing a significant role in the global spread of high path AI, especially during the spring and fall migration periods,” Jardine says. “However, it’s less clear how wild birds contribute to on-farm transmission. Understanding this dynamic is crucial for devising effective prevention strategies.”

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Dam echoes this sentiment, highlighting the project’s broader implications beyond avian influenza. “What we learn from this research isn’t limited to AI; it holds relevance for understanding the transmission of various infectious diseases. By unravelling these mysteries, we equip ourselves with valuable insights that can benefit the industry as a whole,” he explains.

At the heart of the project lies a multifaceted approach comprising three key components. Firstly, an ecology study will examine infected premises, delving into wildlife, animals, and environmental factors. “Our goal is to identify potential vectors and reservoirs of AI within the farm environment,” Jardine says 

This comprehensive approach aims to shed light on the intricate interplay between wildlife and farm biosecurity.

Secondly, a case-control study will scrutinize the physical and management aspects of infected premises, juxtaposed with other farms to pinpoint potential risk factors. “By comparing biosecurity measures on infected and uninfected farms, we hope to uncover crucial insights into disease transmission,” Dam says. This analysis is vital for informing evidence-based prevention strategies.

Lastly, the project seeks to develop an epidemiological risk map – a tool crucial for assessing the risk of AI transmission across various operations. “By mapping out high-risk areas, we can proactively identify vulnerable points and implement targeted interventions,” says Jardine. This strategic approach holds immense potential for mitigating the spread of AI within the poultry industry.

The collaborative nature of the project is impressive, with various stakeholders, including governmental agencies, research institutions, and industry bodies, joining forces to tackle this pressing issue. Jardine, underscoring the importance of collaboration, says, “By pooling our diverse expertise and resources, we can tackle this challenge more effectively and expedite the translation of research findings into actionable strategies.”

Looking ahead, the project aims to disseminate findings promptly, ensuring that valuable insights reach producers and stakeholders. 

“Transparency and knowledge sharing are paramount,” Dam says. “Our goal is to empower farmers with actionable information that can help them bolster their biosecurity measures and protect their livelihoods.”

As we continue to navigate the complexities of avian influenza, this collaborative effort stands as a testament to the industry’s resilience and determination. By unravelling the mysteries of AI transmission, we pave the way for a more resilient and prepared poultry industry throughout Canada.  


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