Avian flu: encouraging situation, but caution required

Avian flu: encouraging situation, but caution required

Eiders are among the seabird species hardest hit by avian flu in 2022. (File photo)

Avian flu in wild birds promises to be less devastating than last year in Eastern Quebec. The main concern remains on the side of poultry producers, who are asked to maintain biosecurity measures.

It is very encouraging for the moment, notes the biologist at the Ministry of Environment, Fight Against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks, Ariane Massé. It indicates that there is currently much less mortality than last year among wild birds in the province.

In May 2022, many carcasses of bird victims of the virus had been found along the river.

This year, the situation is much less alarming, especially on the islands located off Rivière-du-Loup.

For example, two bird carcasses were recovered on Île Blanche from the Duvetnor Company and sent for analysis by the team of the retired professor of biological sciences from the University of Quebec in Montreal. (UQAM), Jean-François Giroux, who is associated with Duvetnor. Around 150 dead birds were observed at the same location in 2022.

On the other islands, where abnormal numbers of eider and gull carcasses were found last year, Mr. Giroux's team did not notice any dead birds. The wild bird specialist is hopeful that avian flu will therefore be less devastating than last year for colonies of common eiders in the St. Lawrence estuary.

While migratory birds are gradually arriving in Bas-Saint-Laurent, carcasses have been found in the western part of the province. Biologist Ariane Massé explains that this is normal, since some specimens are still carrying the virus.

It must be remembered that the first cases in wild birds for the year 2023 were observed mainly in Estrie and Montérégie, because that is where the birds arrive first. Over the course of the season, until mid-May or the end of May, the migratory birds will quietly disperse to the east, but also to the north, says the biologist.

“It is certain that the next few weeks will be able to tell us what the situation is in the Bas-Saint-Laurent or Gaspésie sectors. »

— Ariane Massé, biologist at the Ministry of the Environment

Massé said it's hard to predict if the scenario will be the same as last year, but she's not worried given the low mortality rate among wild birds so far. Migratory bird populations will be closely monitored by the ministry team, she said.

With regard to farmed birds, the Quebec Poultry Disease Control Team (EQCMA) has not received any reports from poultry farmers in the Bas-Saint-Laurent. The director general of the EQCMA, Martin Pelletier, says that in recent weeks, cases among poultry producers have mainly been detected in Montérégie and Estrie, where epidemics of avian flu in farms are however more numerous than last year.

EQCMA and the Ministry of the Environment repeat that owners of poultry flocks must remain cautious, even if they seem to have been spared for now. Martin Pelletier asks poultry producers to remain rigorous with biosecurity measures.

Ariane Massé would like to point out that the public must report the presence of wild bird carcasses to the Ministry of the environment. She points out that avian influenza (H5N1) is very rarely transmitted to humans, but dead birds should not be touched with bare hands.

< em>A text by Émie Bélanger