Farmers fear public doesn't understand bird flu

MONTREAL — For Francois Turcotte, the avian influenza virus making its way around the globe could be a real problem for his poultry and turkey farm if it were to make an appearance in Canada.

But it hasn't, so at the moment the bigger problem for Turcotte and other poultry producers is the public fear and misunderstanding about the H5N1 virus.

"It's the hysteria that we have at this time," Turcotte, a poultry farmer on L'ile d'Orleans near Quebec City, said in an interview.

"Consumers are afraid that they will catch this virus by eating chicken. It's completely false."

The virus is largely feared because it has, in rare cases, jumped to humans in close contact with infected birds, mostly in southeast Asia.

Victims so far have been directly infected by sick birds but scientists fear the H5N1 virus could mutate to pass from human to human and spark a human flu pandemic.

As of Wednesday, the World Health Organization said there had been 174 human cases of avian influenza in seven countries, 94 of them fatal.

The possibility of the virus showing up in Canada "isn't keeping me awake at night," said Bill Woods, a poultry producer near Fergus, Ont.

Avian influenza is not a new disease, Woods said, and until the confusion arose within the public, it wasn't one of the diseases poultry farmers were most concerned about.

"There's more concern about the economic impact than there is about either chicken health or my personal health," he said.

Canadian farmers are legally required to report any suspected cases of avian influenza, triggering emergency plans that include quarantine and a cull of infected flocks.

calendar icon 5 March 2006
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