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Harrison Park bird sanctuary under quarantine after bird flu confirmed


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Avian Influenza has been confirmed in domestic birds in the sanctuary at Harrison Park and it has been placed under a quarantine order.

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The Canadian Food Inspection Agency notified the city on Monday of positive test results for the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus after city staff observed birds exhibiting possible symptoms on Friday. Laboratory testing is needed to confirm the presence of Avian Influenza.

On the advice of the CFIA, a perimeter fence has been installed around the sanctuary to eliminate public contact with the domestic birds there. The sanctuary has been placed under a quarantine order.

The city’s manager of parks and open space Adam Parsons said Tuesday morning that some birds had perished at the park as a result of the virus, including some geese and a duck.

Birds have been kept at the park since 1921, and currently there are about 50 domestic birds located there, including  about 30 ducks, geese and swans outdoors and about 20 ornamental birds like peacocks and pheasants in indoor enclosures.

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So far no swans or the ornamental birds have died and appear to be unaffected, Parsons said..

“The swans we are monitoring a couple of times a day and they seem unaffected,” said Parsons.

“Waterfowl do tend to be a little more resistant. With swans being naturally present in our environment they do seem to have a resistance to it and we are really hoping our swans continue to exhibit that.”

The CFIA has been responding to cases of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza in farmed birds across the country. Since late 2021, new cases of the virus has been spreading around the globe, leading to bird deaths and the culling of several million poultry and egg producing birds in Canada. It can cause serious illness in humans and can be spread to people through direct contact with sick birds, contact with contaminated materials, consuming infected birds, and in rare instances by coming in direct contact with a sick person.

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Symptoms in poultry may be mild, including ruffled feathers and reduced egg production, to severe, leading to complete mortality of a flock within 48 hours of infection.

Parsons said they first noticed the symptoms at the park on Friday, contacted their local veterinarian and it was quickly determined the CFIA needed to be contacted. The CFIA attended the park, did an inspection and on their advice the city installed the perimeter fence.

Parsons said that by the time the symptoms show up in the birds they can die within a few hours. The symptoms they have experienced in the birds include tremors and difficulty holding up their heads.

Parsons said they have been working with a CFIA veterinarian and unfortunately there is no treatment recommended for the birds once they are infected the virus.

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The virus can infect several species of food-producing birds such as chickens turkeys, quails and guinea fowl, as well as pet and wild birds. There is no evidence to suggest eating cooked poultry or eggs can transmit the virus to humans.

City staff are continuing to work with and will take direction from the CFIA in managing the disease outbreak at the park. Key staff have received additional information, training and PPE and are continuing with basic bird care.

“We are still in communication with the CFIA and they are supporting us,” Parsons said. “They have been an excellent organization to work with as this situation has developed.”

While the CFIA mandate doesn’t include testing wild birds, Parsons said some wild birds have been found dead inside the open area of sanctuary as well. He said they are doing their best to keep the wild birds separate from the domestic birds, but because of the size and location of the site among the trees in the park it is difficult.

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Parsons said staff haven’t yet reported signs of the virus in wild birds elsewhere in the city.

Anyone who locates a dead wild bird is encouraged to contact the Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative, which can be done through its website at cwhc-rcsf.ca

The Ontario Wildlife Emergency Hotline can also be contacted at 1-800-567-2033.

Other measures recommended to help prevent the spread of the virus include not touching or feeding wild birds by hand, cleaning backyard feeders and baths regularly using a weak solution of domestic bleach and water and separating domestic and wild birds where possible.

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