Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: Introduction by Fomites Often to Blame

By Tim Nelson, CIO

It was around this time last year that highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A (H5N1) was first being reported in poultry in most Canadian provinces. Since then, more than seven million commercial birds have died or have been culled due to HPAI in Canada, with British Columbia accounting for about half of those birds. The virus has been detected in all provinces and, as of March 29, 2023, there are 58 premises currently infected.

Table 1. Impact of HPAI on commercial poultry in Canada

Province Number of currently infected premises (March 29, 2023) Estimated number of birds impacted since March 2022
Alberta 11 1,400,000
British Columbia 24 3,657,000
Manitoba 0 287,000
New-Brunswick 1 <100
Newfoundland-and-Labrador 0 400
Nova Scotia 2 12,000
Ontario 6 757,000
Quebec 10 609,000
Saskatchewan 4 495,000
Total 58 7,217,000

Source: Canadian Food Inspection Agency

In the United States, 816 outbreaks in 47 states have led to 58 million commercial birds dying or being culled since the February 20221. Iowa, the country’s biggest egg producer, has been hit the hardest with nearly 16 million birds culled2. The current outbreak is estimated to have cost the US government $661 million while the cost to farmers has topped more than $1 billion3.

The situation is Europe isn’t rosier. In its most recent situation report, the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) indicated that 32 new outbreaks occurred in the three-week period starting February 17, 2023, compared to 11 in the Americas.


“Research suggests that most of the time, HPAI is introduced by contaminated people or other fomites that are taken into or enter the housing.” Dr. Christine Middlemiss, UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer


While initial introduction of Avian Influenza is sometimes caused by migratory birds, it is often spread from farm to farm by movement of livestock, vehicles or people (fomite transmission). In fact, Dr. Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, stated publicly at the British Free Range Egg Producers Association Conference in September 2022 that research suggests that most of the time, HPAI is introduced by contaminated people or other fomites that are taken into or enter the housing. Its clear that we need to do more as a sector to control the fomite transmission of pathogens.

How do I protect my farm from avian influenza?

Experts agree that biosecurity is the key to keeping poultry healthy. So much so that Dr. Christine Middlemiss, said that good biosecurity “brings an overall 44-fold reduction in risk”.4

Good biosecurity measures include:5

  • Maintaining a strong line of defence between the outside and the live area of the barn where birds are housed.
  • Keeping barns locked at all times.
  • Establishing an all-in, all-out flock management policy.
  • Washing and disinfecting shoes, clothes, hands, egg trays or flats, crates, vehicles, and tires
  • Keeping unnecessary visitors away and avoiding visiting other poultry farms or other poultry farmers; when someone must visit, ensure they wash and sanitize their hands and change footwear, and keep a log of all visits.
  • Keeping accurate records of farm visitors with their contact information.
  • Deterring wild birds and pests by securing feed bins and water, grading the property to avoid pooling of water, using drains or culverts to drain water away from poultry barns and using deterrent such as wire grids or scare devices.

Enhance biosecurity and reduce the chances of virus introduction by fomites like people and vehicles with Farm Health Guardian. To learn how Farm Health Guardian can help protect against HPAI, visit our website at www.farmhealthguardian.com or contact us.