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The Napanee Wildlife Rehabilitation Center euthanizes sick birds to prevent the spread

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A local wildlife rescue center is humanely euthanizing sick wild geese to prevent the spread of avian influenza as the zoonotic disease becomes more prevalent among local wild waterfowl populations.

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Sandy Pines Wildlife Center in Napanee answers calls and takes in sick birds from Kingston, Prince Edward County and communities in between.

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Leah Birmingham, the centre’s assistant director, said the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative has been monitoring bird flu for years and warned that rates are likely to rise.

“We weren’t really hit as hard as we are now,” Birmingham told the Whig-Standard on Friday. “We’re definitely seeing more sick and dead birds this year.”

In the Kingston region, the infection largely affects Canada geese that live in large social groups, Birmingham said.

Sick geese brought to Sandy Pines are humanely euthanized, she said, to prevent other birds at the center — like their native raptors — from getting sick.

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“They can’t really be treated, and even if they are, they’re often left with neurological deficits,” she said. “Also, they are highly contagious and there is the potential to be transmitted to other species.”

She said that the virus was also found in foxes.

“So we assume that dogs can get it,” she said. “It has potential for humans as well. I think the risk to the average person is relatively low, but someone who works in the poultry industry is a huge concern from a financial perspective for poultry farms.”

Leah Birmingham
Sandy Pines Wildlife Center medical director Leah Birmingham, left, and Sandy Pines staff member Adriana Larios examine a Canada goose that was brought to the Napanee Wildlife Center on Dec. 9, 2023. Photo by Meghan Balogh /The Whig Standard

Commercial poultry farms are a concern

The potential danger to domestic poultry is very real, Birmingham said.

“It can definitely destroy it,” she said. “If you have a poultry farm and you introduce that into whatever species you’re raising, it can be incredibly destructive very quickly and often to deal with it you have to cull everything out.”

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A news release from Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health said Friday that the bird flu virus, also known as bird blue, has been confirmed in dead Canada geese found at Lake Ontario Park in Kingston.

“Avian influenza infects wild birds such as geese, ducks and shorebirds and can infect domestic poultry,” the public health agency said in its press release. “The risk of transmission to humans is low, as the virus does not usually pass from birds to humans. We warn all residents to avoid contact with sick or dead wild or domestic birds.”

The municipality of South Frontenac sent out a press release Friday confirming the detection of bird flu in Kingston and reminding residents that farmers or owners of flocks and poultry should follow biosecurity guidelines set forth by the Department of Agriculture, Food and rural Ontario.

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The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is also monitoring avian influenza for its potential impact on the Canadian food system.

Specifically, the agency is closely monitoring the confirmed presence of H5N1 in Canada, known as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

As of February 6, 2024, the CFIA estimates that HPAI has affected more than 11 million domestic poultry across Canada to date. These numbers include farms that have had infestations in previous years.

In recent months, most domestic poultry virus cases have been in commercial flocks in British Columbia and Alberta, but the virus is showing up on the East Coast in early 2024, with farms in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario listed as active primary control zones.

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The CFIA said the virus is “not a food safety concern.”

“There is no evidence to suggest that consumption of cooked poultry or eggs can transmit HPAI to humans,” the agency wrote on its website.

HPAI has not yet been identified in Kingston

Birmingham said that while bird flu has been confirmed in the Kingston region, it has not yet been identified as HPAI.

“Whether it’s a highly pathogenic form or not, that’s still being determined,” she said. “But we know without a doubt that the birds that were killed in Kingston were killed by bird flu.”

Birmingham said people who find dead birds on public land should contact their municipality, as they have some cleanup protocols in place.

On private land, the current recommendation is to double bag the bird carcass and dispose of it in the trash, avoiding contact with blood, body fluids, or feces. A bird’s carcass can be buried up to three meters deep.

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Local public health officials are urging residents to keep their pets away from sick or dead birds or animals, to avoid handling or feeding wild birds, and to wash hands thoroughly after handling birds or their droppings.

The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative wants to know more about sick or dead birds seen. Local residents can report to the organization through the online reporting tool or by calling 1-866-673-4781.

Birmingham urged people who contact Sandy Pines to be patient with the organization’s volunteers as they deal with all sick bird calls.

“I just let people know that we’re doing our best to help,” she said. “We are a non-profit organization based on volunteerism. I don’t want people to think that we can necessarily send someone away right away.

“Everyone wants us to get there and help end the suffering of these animals, but it’s just not always possible because there’s just not the resources or the ability to be there right away.”

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