Engineering Professor Creates New Way to Test for Avian Flu

Posted on Thursday, April 16th, 2015

The University of Guelph has developed a new portable tool that will let farmers detect bird flu in a matter of minutes. 

Currently, farmers or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have to take blood samples and send them to a lab for results. The process can take up to two days. 

News of the new detection method comes as federal authorities have widened a quarantine order to 29 Ontario poultry farms to deal with an avian flu outbreak on one turkey farm west of Woodstock, Ont. Around 10,000 infected turkeys have died of the flu at the farm, and another 35,000 were euthanized to stop the virus from spreading.

Professor Suresh Neethirajan says the new test lets farmers test their own birds in as little as 10 minutes. 
"There is no need for shipping the sample from the farm to the lab. So if the farm is a remote place such as Yukon, the Northwest Territories, or even several hours from the big city, it's easy to do the test right away in the farm itself. That's the unique advantage," he said.

The new testing uses a portable device called a nanobiosenor, that uses microscopic or nano gold particles and takes a small blood sample. If flu is detected, a colour change will happen and will identify what type of flu the bird has within about 10 minutes. 

Right now, the device can detect H1N1 and H5N1 strains, though with a bit of work, should also be able to detect the H5N2 strain, which is behind the current outbreak in Woodstock, Neethirajan said. The CFIA said the strain is "nearly identical" to the one found in B.C. in 2014.
"The farmer, himself or herself, will be able to manage the farm in a much better manner, if they understand what this particular virus subtype or the strain," said Neethirajan. 

Neethirajin says the farmer will also know exactly how lethal and infectious that virus might be. 

"The unique ability to detect multiple strains at the same, and also the possibility ... to discriminate between high pathogen versus low pathogen strain in a real time manner is the unique advantage of our invention," he said.

It won't require any special training for farmers to use, he said.