H5N1 virus reported in Québec

Avian influenza has been confirmed in wild birds This hyperlink will open in a new window. in Québec. Cases have also been found on poultry farms This hyperlink will open in a new window..

You can report sick or dead wild birds immediately by calling 1-877-346‑6763. However, if you are in an area where multiple wild bird deaths are reported (e.g. Îles-de-la-Madeleine), you can dispose of the carcasses safely.

Given the island position of the Îles-de-la-Madeleine, special measures will be put in place to dispose of bird carcasses in this territory. Residents should refer to local authorities for details.

Notice to owners of farmed birds

Monitor your birds’ state of health attentively. In case of unusual mortality or other signs of illness, see a veterinarian. If this is impossible, call 1 844 ANIMAUX.

Prevention and biosecurity measures must be strictly applied. Comply with your obligations concerning confining captive birds This hyperlink will open in a new window. (in French only).

See the Notice to owners of farmed birds (in French only) (PDF 264 Kb), share it and post it in the henhouse.

Description

Avian influenza, more specifically, highly pathogenic and low pathogenic avian influenza subtypes H5 and H7, is a notifiable disease. It must be reported to the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation and to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Wild birds are known to be natural hosts of the avian flu virus.

Animals at risk

All bird species are at risk for infection. Domestic birds such as hens and turkeys are the species most often affected by the disease.

Wild birds often show no signs of the disease and mortalities are generally low. Ducks, geese, gulls and other waterfowls can maintain the virus in their populations and spread it undetected. However, some species may be more susceptible and subject to greater mortality. For example, in Québec, mortality has been observed in northern gannets, common eiders, great black-backed gulls, turkey vultures and birds of prey.

Rare cases of infected domestic and wild mammals have been reported in different parts of the world. Most cases concerned swine, cats and dogs. In even rarer cases, the virus was identified in ferrets, foxes and seals.

Signs of the disease in animals

Usually, bird flu is low pathogenic and causes no or very few signs of the disease in birds.

More rarely, it can be highly pathogenic and produce severe symptoms and greater mortality.

The symptoms of avian influenza in birds are:

  • lack of energy and appetite;
  • decreased egg production or soft-shelled or shell-less eggs;
  • swollen head, eyelids, comb, wattles and shanks;
  • cough, sneezing and neurological signs;
  • diarrhea;
  • lack of coordination;
  • sudden death.

Transmission

Avian flu can be transmitted directly from bird to bird by secretions and droppings. Birds that are asymptomatic can still transmit the virus, which can also be transmitted indirectly through contaminated food, water or equipment.

To find out more about surveillance by the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation, see Grippe aviaire : surveillance This hyperlink will open in a new window. (in French only).

Protection and prevention

A set of protection and prevention measures safeguard birds and help reduce the low risk of transmission of bird flu to humans.

After any contact with a bird, wash your hands with soap and hot water or a water-alcohol solution. Apply recommended personal protection according to the kind of contact you have with the birds.

Farmed birds

Prevention remains the best way of reducing the risk of introducing or spreading the disease in farmed birds. A strict biosecurity protocol This hyperlink will open in a new window. (in French only) must be in place at all times. Employees must be trained in biosecurity and disease prevention.

Contact between farmed birds and wiId birds must be avoided, namely, by obeying the legislation on confining captive birds This hyperlink will open in a new window. (in French only).

If possible, keep your birds in a building, or if not, in an enclosure with a roof (e.g. netting). Avoid attracting wild birds (presence of food, ponds or stagnant water near bird enclosures and accessways).

Your material and equipment (e.g. tractor, shovel, straw) must be stored away from wild birds so it is not contaminated by their droppings. Clean and disinfect motorized vehicles before they enter the farm. Make sure to keep rodents and insects under control effectively. Avoid introducing birds whose health status is unknown.

The recommended course of action is to keep only one age group per barn and to remove all organic waste. Clean and disinfect the premises before introducing new birds.

Controlling access to farmed birds

To control bird-human contact, prohibit entrance for unauthorized people (locked doors, signage). Anyone who has been in close contact with wild birds should also be prohibited from entering.

Employees must be told to avoid contact with other birds (e.g. hunting, bird shows, sale) or other farmed flocks (e.g. shared employees or equipment, visits to other farms). Contact between commercial and backyard flocks must be avoided in particular.

Washing your hands properly, covering any sores with an adhesive bandage and gloves, and wearing washable boots, clean clothing and headwear is a must.

Complementary information and customized recommendations for small-flock or backyard flock owners are found at the Petits élevages d’oiseaux This hyperlink will open in a new window. page (in French only).

Surveillance in wild birds in Québec

Since April 2022, several mortality events of varying intensity have been observed in wild birds in Québec. Highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus must now be considered present in all regions of Québec. The absence of a carcass tested in a region or area does not mean that the virus is absent from that area.

Since mid-May 2022, the H5N1 virus has caused the death of several seabirds in the estuary and the golfe du Saint-Laurent. More mortality events may occur in the coming months.

When a carcass is reported, it may be collected for analysis. In this case, it may take one to three weeks before the result is available. You can refer to the dashboard on the avian influenza situation This hyperlink will open in a new window.  in Canada to locate the wild bird mortality events for which tests were conducted.

When samples have already been collected in an area where influenza has been confirmed, the remaining carcasses will not be collected for analysis. If these carcasses cause a nuisance, they may be disposed in household garbage according to the recommended method. If the carcasses are in a public place, it is up to the municipalities to dispose of them. 

Safely dispose of a dead wild bird carcass

Generally speaking, dead bird carcasses can be placed in a bag and disposed of in household garbage. Follow these steps and our tips to adopt the best hygiene practices.  

Avoid touching the carcass with your bare hands.

Use a lined plastic bag. Wear disposable nitrile or latex gloves if available.

Enter your hands into the bag and grasp the carcass through the bag to avoid contact with blood, body fluids and feces of the bird. Gradually flip it over onto the carcass by gently lifting it up and into the bag without touching it.

Tie a knot in the bag.

Put the bag and gloves in the garbage. Make sure that garbage is not accessible to animals.

Wash your hands with soap and water, or use a hydroalcoholic solution of at least 60% alcohol.

Avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose after and during handling.

Avoid eating, drinking or smoking when handling the carcass.

Wear goggles and a procedure mask if there is a risk of droplet splashing during handling. Also, stand with your back to the wind so that the droplets naturally move away from you.

Avoid contact with poultry. If this is unavoidable or if you own farmed birds, be sure to strictly follow prevention and biosecurity measures.

If you notice a band on a bird, you can write down the band number or take a picture to report it online at reportband.gov This hyperlink will open in a new window. or leave a message at 1800327BAND (2263).

Hunting and other activities related to wild birds

The risk of avian flu being transmitted to humans by wild birds is very slight. Close contact is rare and usually occurs outdoors and not in a closed area. Basic measures are still recommended and reduce the risks associated with other zoonotic diseases.

Avoid touching or handling wild bird carcasses. If contact must occur, use gloves or a doubled plastic bag, and avoid contact with blood, bodily fluids and feces. Wash your hands with soap and hot water or a water-alcohol solution.

Wild bird hunters are urged to follow Public Health Agency of Canada recommendations for reducing the risk of exposure to avian influenza This hyperlink will open in a new window..

People who handle and prepare wild bird carcasses must follow the recommendations concerning handling wild bird meat This hyperlink will open in a new window. (in French only). There is no scientific proof that eating wild bird meat that is properly cooked is a source of human infection. Household pets must not be fed raw meat or offal.

Professionals who work in close contact with wild birds and bird shelters are urged to follow the recommendations that apply to these activities This hyperlink will open in a new window..

Do not feed waterfowl, likely to gather in large flocks that foster the spread of disease. To prevent the transmission of disease, find out about best bird-feeding practices This hyperlink will open in a new window. (in French only).

In humans

Avian influenza poses a low risk for the human population at large. The virus is rarely transmitted from birds to humans. There is no sustained human-to-human transmission. When it does occur, the virus generally affects workers in close contact with infected poultry in closed areas (e.g farms, slaughterhouses, live poultry markets).

In Québec, surveillance of avian influenza and marketing of bird products help manage the risk to public health effectively. No human cases have been documented in Québec or elseswhere in Canada.

The symptoms of human avian flu (zoonotic flu) are usually similar to those of human seasonal flu. They include:

  • fever;
  • cough and sore throat;
  • red or watery eyes (eye infections);
  • headache;
  • generalized pains;
  • chills;
  • fatigue.

In rarer cases associated with the H5N1 virus, gastro-intestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting and diarrhea) and serious illnesses (pneumonia and respiratory failure) have been reported.

When a case of avian influenza is suspected, the workers and other people who were exposed are monitored by animal health authorities in collaboration with public health authorities. Extra personal protection measures are recommended for the workers or people in close contact with these birds. These people must also use disposable equipment (boots, overalls, headwear, and gloves) as well as safety glasses and an N95 mask.

If a person who has been exposed to diseased or dead birds (unknown cause or suspected or confirmed avian influenza) has symptoms of bird flu, they must call Info-Santé 811 and indicate that they have been in contact with these birds.

Food safety

There is no indication that the virus can be transmitted to humans who eat properly prepared and cooked poultry, eggs or game.

However, it is still important to take the usual precautions concerning safe food storage This hyperlink will open in a new window., handling and preparation This hyperlink will open in a new window. (in French only).

Last update: June 14, 2022

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