The Eastern Ontario Heath Unit (EOHU) is advising the public that a case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 has been detected in the region. Avian Influenza (AI) is a disease caused by a virus that mainly infects domestic poultry and wild birds like geese, ducks, and shore birds. H5N1 is a strain that kills both wild birds and commercial poultry.
“At the moment, the risk of transmission to humans is low, as the current strain of the virus has been listed as lower than normal concern for spread to humans,” says Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health. “The EOHU is working closely with provincial and federal partners, including the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to monitor the situation.”
While the exact mode of transmission from birds to people is not known, most human cases of avian influenza in the past have been linked to direct contact with live or dead infected poultry or their droppings.
Contracting avian influenza from the consumption of undercooked eggs or poultry is unlikely, but food safety measures should always be taken when handling poultry and egg products. Make sure to wash your hands before and after handling food, to keep products separate to prevent cross-contamination, to clean and sanitize all surfaces, and to fully cook poultry products.
The symptoms of H5N1 in humans can range from very mild to severe. The most common symptoms are the following:
- Fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle and/or body aches, headaches, fatigue or tiredness
- Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Less common symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting or seizures. Diarrhea is more common when infected with avian influenza than human influenza viruses.
If you have been around birds in the past 14 days (especially sick or dead birds) and did not wear any personal protective equipment, it is important to tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Specific tests to detect avian influenza in humans are available. If you do not have access to a doctor, please call Telehealth Ontario at 1 866 797-0000.
Generally, members of the public should avoid handling live or dead wild birds. If you cannot avoid contact with wild birds, wear gloves, or use a doubled plastic bag and avoid contact with blood, body fluids and feces. You should then wash your hands with soap and warm water. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs has information on safety principles for small flock owners.
If you find a sick or dead wild bird in your backyard or in a park, please call the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at 1 800 673-4781 to report the finding. If you notice large numbers of waterfowl or poultry in your area dying, please advise the EOHU at 613-933-1375 or 1 800 267-7120.
For more information about avian influenza and how to prevent its spread in birds and humans, visit EOHU.ca/H5N1.