Three poultry flocks in Ontario have been found to be infected with H5N2 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Under the direction of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the lead agency when it comes to responding to federally reportable diseases like this, disease control zones have been established around the affected flocks, and movement of domestic birds and poultry products in and out of these zones is being carefully controlled in order to try to prevent further spread. No one knows for sure how the virus made it into these flocks. Based on the fact that an almost identical flu virus was found in British Columbia and along the west coast late last year, and that the virus has recently been popping up with disturbing frequency in the central US, it is suspected that the virus is moving around in wild birds. Migratory waterfowl in particular are prime candidates, as they travel long distances along certain routes such as the Mississipi flyway (which includes southwestern Ontario), and they generally don’t get sick from the virus, even though it’s highly fatal in domestic poultry. Commercial poultry flocks tend to have a lot of biosecurity and infection control procedures to prevent wild birds (or feces of wild birds) from coming in contact with the domestic birds, but sometimes some of the virus slips by one way or another, and it doesn’t take much to infect the flock when the virus is so pathogenic. But the domestic birds that are most likely to have exposure to wild birds are small backyard flocks and birds like “urban chickens”. There are also some wild bird species like raptors and wild turkeys that are susceptible to the virus (and it just so happens that turkey hunting season starts on Monday here in Ontario). It’s important to note that the risk to people posed by this particular virus is very low. No human cases of H5N2 have been reported, despite the numerous outbreaks in poultry flocks across the continent. It is also not considered a food safety risk, but of course raw poultry and poultry products still need to be handled and cooked properly for lots of other reasons (like Salmonella). There is some potential risk to those who have a lot of direct contact with infected birds though, so its important for backyard chicken enthusiasts and people like hunters to be aware of the potential risk. These groups can also help with surveillance and monitoring by helping to identify affected birds in different areas so they can be tested for HPAI, thus helping to track the movement of the virus. The Ontario Animal Health Network (OAHN) has put together an infographic to help small flock owners and bird enthusiasts remember what to do to help detect and stop the spread of bird flu. OAHN has also put together a podcast and resources for both veterinarians and producers. Click here for the small flock advisory from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.