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Respiratory virus hits Smithville poultry farm

Bethany Hahn via AP

Infectious Laryngotracheitis (ILT), a highly contagious virus in poultry which affects their respiratory system, has been reported in the Niagara Region at a 41,208-bird broiler chicken operation in Smithville.

In merely two days, 600 birds have died in one of three barns at the farm, according to a Dec. 1 industry biosecurity advisory from the Feather Board Command Centre (FBCC). The farm was not named.

All affected birds in the one barn have been sent to slaughter, though the release says the disease does not present a food safety issue.

“(The) other two barns have shown no clinical signs and are scheduled for slaughter this week,” an FBCC email read.

ILT is a herpesvirus which causes infected birds to suffer from shortness of breath, coughing and crackling in the lungs and can be accompanied by the presence of blood or mucus.

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Many birds who contract ILT, often through other birds coughing, do not recover. And most broiler chickens are not vaccinated against the virus.

Dr. Tom Baker, a veterinarian and feather board incident commander, said it’s not known how the virus originated at the farm, but that it doesn’t present a risk to human health, even for those working with infected birds, because it’s not a zoonotic disease _ meaning it can’t be transmitted to humans.

“It’s not the first time this disease has happened in Niagara by any stretch,” Baker said during a phone call.

“FBCC is working with CFO staff in assisting the farmer with bio-containment efforts, cleanup and recovery,” the advisory stated, adding that this is the third case of ILT in a commercial broiler chicken flock in the province since 2018 but that infections in small flocks occur almost monthly.

The FBCC is co-ordinating with other feather boards to notify farmers within a 10-kilometre radius from the farm of the situation.

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