The present global avian influenza (AI) outbreak has been “unprecedented,” but the danger of contracting the virus remains to be low for most people, in line with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada.
“Hundreds of thousands of birds have been affected worldwide, including greater than 7.2 million in Canada,” the CFIA told Global News in an e-mail Thursday, adding that outbreaks are occurring in the US and other countries around the globe.
Avian influenza, also often known as bird flu, normally spreads amongst a wide range of bird species each domestic and wild. The virus can sometimes spread from bird to human, as was the case in Cambodia, where an 11-year-old girl, who lived near a conservation area, reportedly died from the virus.
Health officials said earlier this week that the girl’s death is the country’s first known human H5N1 infection since 2014. Her father also tested positive but didn’t display any major symptoms.
The cases have raised concerns that the virus could evolve to spread more easily between people, potentially triggering a health emergency. Nonetheless, Health Canada said in an email to Global News Thursday that “human infection with avian influenza A(H5N1) is rare” and poses a low risk for most people who’ve limited contact with infected animals.
Since 1997, there have been greater than 800 human cases of avian influenza A(H5N1) reported worldwide, mostly occurring in Africa and Asia, Health Canada said. About half of the identified cases in humans have been fatal.
The one human case of bird flu in a human ever reported in Canada was in 2014, the agency noted, adding that the fatal case occurred following a visit to China, where it’s believed the person was infected.
Symptoms of the avian flu in humans can mimic those of other common illnesses, resembling fever, cough, aching muscles and sore throat.
“The predominant avian influenza A(H5N1) viruses now circulating globally amongst birds are different from earlier A(H5N1) viruses. Avian influenza viruses continually change, which might affect how easily the virus spreads from birds to other animals, including humans, and likewise how severe illness is,” the agency added.
The CFIA also explained that human infections with avian influenza A(H5N1) are rare and mostly occur after close contact with infected birds or highly contaminated environments resembling poultry farms or live bird markets.
“There isn’t any evidence to suggest that eating thoroughly cooked poultry meat or eggs could transmit the avian influenza virus to humans,” the agency said.
It also went on to elucidate that the virus is spread by direct contact with live diseased poultry or surfaces and objects contaminated by their feces.
Because of this, hunters of traditional foods, like wild geese and duck, and the individuals who prepare these foods could also be at the next risk, in line with Health Canada.
To assist reduce any risk, the agency recommends Canadians cook game thoroughly to an internal temperature of roughly 71 C (160 F), and avoid direct contact with blood, feces and respiratory secretions of all wild birds.
It also recommends people to not eat, drink or smoke when cleansing wild game birds and to wear dish gloves or latex gloves when handling or cleansing game.
“There have been no known human cases of the virus in Canada related to the present outbreak. Although human cases of HPAI H5N1 have been recorded in several countries, there was no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission,” the CFIA said.
Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at England’s University of Nottingham, said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that there’s all the time all the time a risk of human infection regardless that the likelihood is low.
“This virus keeps cropping up in various mammals and this might potentially increase the potential for further human infections. The danger to humans remains to be very low, nevertheless it’s necessary that we proceed to watch circulation of flu in each bird and mammal populations and do every thing we are able to to cut back the variety of infections seen,” Ball said.
The CFIA says it has been monitoring the situation and has activated a response team of experts, including veterinarians, and administrative and field staff, to co-ordinate motion with federal, provincial and municipal partners and industries to assist prevent the spread of the bird flu.
“The CFIA responds to the presence of H5N1 HPAI in small flocks, industrial and non-commercial farms with birds across Canada,” the agency said. “The response helps eliminate and forestall the spread of HPAI in poultry while minimizing the impact of the disease on Canadians and international trade.”
It does this through thorough cleansing, disinfection, depopulation and disease surveillance at infected premises, and by placing “movement controls, resembling quarantining” on infected areas to forestall the disease from spreading.
The CFIA said it also imposes strict requirements on the import of animals and animal products from countries where avian influenza is thought to exist.
Amidst the present global outbreak of avian flu, the CFIA said that a complete of 299 outbreaks have been confirmed in industrial and non-commercial flocks, with almost 7.2 million birds affected in Canada. The poultry and egg industry counts roughly 5,000 industrial producers across Canada. In 2022, Canadian poultry and egg producers raised greater than 790 million birds and produced over 803 million eggs for consumption.
— with files from The Associated Press and Global News