Avian influenza

What is avian influenza or “bird flu”?

Avian influenza is different than seasonal influenza. It is an infectious viral disease mainly affecting birds. These viruses occur naturally worldwide among wild aquatic birds, and can infect domestic poultry and other bird and animal species. On rare occasions it can be spread to humans through close contact with infected birds.

Influenza viruses are not transmitted through eating cooked food – it is safe to eat properly prepared and cooked meat including poultry and game birds. Canada does not import raw poultry or raw poultry products from China.

Influenza H5N1

Since 2003, an avian influenza virus called H5N1 has been circulating in Asia and parts of Europe. This strain of influenza is highly deadly to poultry. In 2014, a human case of H5N1, resulting in death, was identified here in Alberta. The individual had a history of travel to Asia.

Influenza H7N9

The avian influenza A(H7N9), or H7N9, virus belongs to a larger group of H7 viruses which are found in birds.

In March 2013,  H7N9 virus emerged in China, causing severe disease in humans. Since then, the H7N9 virus has been found in humans, poultry and their environments in China. Most of the people infected reported recent exposure to live poultry or potentially contaminated environments, especially markets where live birds have been sold.

The H7N9 virus does not appear to transmit easily from person to person. Human infections with other H7 influenza viruses (H7N2, H7N3, and H7N7) have previously been reported in several countries, including Canada.

  • There is no vaccine for the prevention of the H7N9 virus, but it is expected to be sensitive to the antivirals available in Alberta. The initial steps for vaccine development have been put in place should manufacturing of a vaccine become necessary in the future.

Risk to Albertans is low

There have been no reports of people infected with the H7N9 virus in Alberta. In January 2015, 2 imported H7N9 human cases were reported in British Columbia. Both of these individuals had traveled together to China and recently returned to Canada. The H7N9 virus has not been identified in any Canadian birds since the outbreak in China started.

The current risk of getting the H7N9 virus in Alberta is low. Alberta Health continues to monitor and track reports of severe respiratory illness in the province to detect human cases and ensure that prompt and appropriate action is taken to protect the health of all Albertans.

Help protect yourself and others from any strain of influenza –

  • clean your hands frequently using either soap and warm water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers
  • cover coughs and sneezes with your arm to reduce the spread of germs
  • keep common surfaces clean
  • stay home when sick

More information