The current global avian influenza (AI) outbreak has been “unprecedented,” but the risk of contracting the virus is still low for the general public, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and Health Canada.
“Millions of birds have been affected worldwide, including more than 7.2 million in Canada,” the CFIA told Motorcycle accident toronto today in an e-mail Thursday, adding that outbreaks are occurring in the United States and other countries around the world.
Avian influenza, also known as bird flu, normally spreads among a wide variety of bird species both 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.
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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 did not 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. However, Health Canada said in an email to Motorcycle accident toronto today Thursday that “human infection with avian influenza A(H5N1) is rare” and poses a low risk for the general public who have limited contact with infected animals.
Since 1997, there have been more 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 only 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 trip to China, where it’s believed the person was infected.
Symptoms of the avian flu in humans can mimic those of other common illnesses, such as fever, cough, aching muscles and sore throat.
“The predominant avian influenza A(H5N1) viruses now circulating globally among birds are different from earlier A(H5N1) viruses. Avian influenza viruses continually change, which can affect how easily the virus spreads from birds to other animals, including humans, and also how severe illness is,” the agency added.
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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 such as poultry farms or live bird markets.
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“There is no 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 explain that the virus is spread by direct contact with live diseased poultry or surfaces and objects contaminated by their feces.
As a result, hunters of traditional foods, like wild geese and duck, and the people who prepare these foods may be at a higher risk, according to Health Canada.
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To help reduce any risk, the agency recommends Canadians cook game thoroughly to an internal temperature of approximately 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 cleaning wild game birds and to wear dish gloves or latex gloves when handling or cleaning game.
“There have been no known human cases of the virus in Canada associated with the current outbreak. Although human cases of HPAI H5N1 have been recorded in several countries, there has been 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 is always always a risk of human infection even though the possibility is low.
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“This virus keeps cropping up in various mammals and this could potentially increase the possibility of further human infections. The risk to humans is still very low, but it’s important that we continue to monitor circulation of flu in both bird and mammal populations and do everything we can to reduce the number 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 action with federal, provincial and municipal partners and industries to help prevent the spread of the bird flu.
“The CFIA responds to the presence of H5N1 HPAI in small flocks, commercial and non-commercial farms with birds across Canada,” the agency said. “The response helps eliminate and prevent the spread of HPAI in poultry while minimizing the impact of the disease on Canadians and international trade.”
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It does this through thorough cleaning, disinfection, depopulation and disease surveillance at infected premises, and by placing “movement controls, such as quarantining” on infected areas to prevent 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 known to exist.
Amidst the current global outbreak of avian flu, the CFIA said that a total of 299 outbreaks have been confirmed in commercial and non-commercial flocks, with almost 7.2 million birds affected in Canada. The poultry and egg industry counts approximately 5,000 commercial producers across Canada. In 2022, Canadian poultry and egg producers raised more than 790 million birds and produced over 803 million eggs for consumption.
— with files from The Associated Press and Motorcycle accident toronto today