msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/20/2005 3:13:25 PM ET 2005-11-20T20:13:25

As many as 65,000 birds at a poultry farm in the Fraser River Valley of British Columbia are to be slaughtered after a strain of bird flu was discovered in a duck there, according to reports published Sunday quoting Canadian health officials and the owner of the farm.

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“This morning test results ... confirmed that the H5 virus found in a domestic duck in British Columbia is the low pathogenic, North American strain,” Cornelius Kiley, a veterinarian with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said in a briefing on Sunday. “This confirmation means that we are looking at a virus capable of causing only mild disease, if any at all.

“It also means that we are not dealing with the virus current in Asia and Europe,” Kiley said. “This particular subtype is unique to this part of the world and we have previously seen it throughout North America.”

There are no signs the disease has spread to other birds. But the CTV Canadian Television Web site reported Sunday that another four poultry farms within a radius of 3.1 miles from the first farm may also face orders to cull their birds in the next few days, as a precaution.

The Canadian agency has quarantined those farms, considered “high risk,” and expects confirmatory test results within days, Kiley said.

Poultry not sold in U.S.
The ducks and meat from this particular farm are not sold in Washington state or anywhere in the United States, NBC affiliate KING-TV reported earlier on Sunday.

Nevertheless, Canadian health investigators are taking blood samples from birds on other farms the Fraser River Valley and several other farms are in a state of "bio-security" lockdown.

“It just could be [a deadly bird flu strain], so we as an industry have committed to being proactive with these things,” said Ken Faulk, the owner of Fraser Valley Duck and Goose, headquartered in Abbotsford, B.C.

Provincial leaders say they aren't sure which strain of the H5 virus was in the duck, which was in good condition at slaughter.

The problems were noticed when the duck's feathers was removed before slaughter; early tests showed the presence of the the virus.

The CTV Web site, quoting Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials, reported that wild birds in the province of Manitoba have tested positive for a low-danger version of the H5N1 avian flu virus.

But the strains found in those birds are from the family of North American H5N1 viruses, not the forms now circulating in Southeast Asia.

“I want to emphasize that the H5N1 subtype detected in Manitoba is completely distinct from the strain currently present in Asia,” said Dr. Brian Evans, chief veterinary officer of Canada,  said Saturday. “From a genetic perspective, there are significant strain differences in their structure,” Evans said.

Officials also confirmed for CTV that two birds in British Columbia carried H5N9 viruses, while five others carried H5N2 and two birds discovered in Quebec carried H5N3 viruses. All are considered low-pathogenic viruses, meaning the risk of danger to waterfowl and other birds is thought to be low.

Identifying virus forms
The Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention breaks down the various subtypes of avian influenza, noting that there are “substantial genetic differences” between one subtype and another.

The H5 subtype contains nine different forms, from H5N1 (the subtype that's been so deadly in Asia) to H5N9. Subtypes are named according to the identity of proteins found on the surface of the virus, according to the CDC Web site.

The forms vary from high-pathogenic to low-pathogenic, the distinction determined on the basis of genetic features of the virus. There are also nine different forms of each of the H7 and H9 avian flu subtypes.

MSNBC.com's Michael Ross, Chris Daniels of NBC affiliate KING-TV in Seattle, Canadian Television's CTV.com and Reuters contributed to this report.

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