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Canada tightens borders to halt bird flu


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Well at least its something, but I wish they weren't brushing off migratory birds so much....And I don't really see this helping much it didn't with sars...




Canada tightens borders to halt bird flu

Travellers from Europe queried

Airport dogs join security efforts

Mar. 1, 2006. 05:12 AM





Canadian customs officials have beefed up inspections at entry points for travellers arriving from Europe, especially France, to keep the highly lethal H5N1 bird flu strain from entering the country.


And the Quebec government recently passed legislation prohibiting poultry producers from keeping their stocks outside to avoid contact with wild birds.


With the virus continuing its spread across Europe — most recently infecting a commercial turkey farm in France, and killing a cat in northern Germany and wild ducks in Sweden — Canadian officials are working with border security services to make sure passengers don't illegally or inadvertently import the disease. "We've asked the customs agency to have a higher awareness of anyone coming from any countries in Europe, not just the ones with isolations that have been identified," Dr. Jim Clark of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said yesterday.


Animal health experts say the greatest potential for spreading the disease to Canada now comes from international travel, not the flyways of migratory birds.


Travellers from France are the latest to join a long list from countries exposed to the H5N1 virus who are being closely questioned by Canadian authorities about visits to European farms; they are also being questioned about hunting, birding and whether they are importing feathers or other bird products.


The virus, which has spread in recent months from Asia to Europe and Africa, was found Saturday at a farm of more than 11,000 turkeys in southeastern France. It has spread to 20 new countries in the past month.


Health experts in the Bahamas are also investigating the possibility the virus may be responsible for a spate of flamingo deaths on the southern island of Inagua in the last couple of days. Yesterday, Niger ordered a cull of all poultry in areas hit by bird flu and said it was stepping up checks across the rest of the semi-desert country to try to stop the disease from spreading.


Veterinary chiefs meeting in Paris yesterday said it is "highly likely" the disease will continue to spread to poultry stocks in Europe and beyond.


Clark, national manager of the food inspection agency's avian influenza working group, said dogs will be used at Canadian airport luggage carousels to sniff out any feathers or bird products stored in bags or to detect bird droppings that may have attached to the bottoms of people's shoes or clothing.


"We're relying on a bit of an honour system but the dogs are keeping people honest too," he said.


Canada suspended poultry and live bird shipments from France on Friday, although the country seldom imports poultry products.


About 20 countries have suspended or banned imports of all French poultry, including the United States, Japan and Hong Kong.


Since 2003, the H5N1 virus has killed tens of millions of birds across Asia, Africa and now Europe. Experts fear it could mutate into a form that can easily transmit between humans and trigger a pandemic.


The dead cat in Germany is the first H5N1-infected mammal in Europe, causing alarm among pet-loving Europeans. It was found over the weekend on the northern island of Ruegen, where more than 100 infected wild birds were found. The cat is believed to have eaten part of an infected bird.


It's not the first time mammals have been infected, however. Captive tigers and leopards were infected with the virus in Thailand in 2004 after eating fresh chicken carcasses, but the World Health Organization says there is no evidence that domestic cats play a role in the transmission of H5N1 viruses.


In Canada, poultry producers have been practising bio-security measures in the event an H5N1 outbreak arrives here, said Dr. Jean-Pierre Vaillancourt, an expert in poultry health and public health at Université de Montréal.


While many European countries are moving free-range poultry stocks indoors to avoid an H5N1 outbreak, Quebec took the added measure of passing a law prohibiting domestic poultry from being kept outdoors.


"Given the current situation, I think it's wise to do this," said Vaillancourt.


In Ontario, all 1,100 commercial chicken producers keep their poultry inside, said Margie Taylor of the Chicken Farmers of Ontario.


The province's Achilles heel is the backyard flocks kept by families, she said.


"Keep in mind, though, the H5N1 has been in wild birds in the world for way over 10 years and we still don't have any evidence that it is here," Vaillancourt said.


With files from the Star's wire services

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