The avian influenza outbreak: what you need to know

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Avian influenza or “bird flu,” caused by avian influenza A viruses, can spread easily and quickly in birds. These viruses (low pathogenic- and highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses like H5N1) occur naturally among wild birds worldwide and can infect domestic poultry, and other bird and animal species leading to severe disease and death. There is currently no treatment for infected birds and outbreaks have led to mass culling which has devastated the farming industries in many areas of the world.

Parts of North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa are currently experiencing outbreaks of H5N1 bird flu. Historically, H5N1 was thought to only be a problem in parts of Asia, North Africa and Europe with no presence of H5N1 in North America. Now, H5N1 is present in all major flyways globally, with millions of affected birds including over 7 million in Canada and 500,000 in Saskatchewan. In addition, in Europe there have been ‘spill-over’ cases involving mammal-to-mammal transmission, like the recent outbreak at a mink farm in Spain.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is currently responding to cases of H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza in farmed birds across the country. At this time, the major threat is to our poultry industry; however, human cases have been reported internationally.

VIDO scientists have been interviewed by local media to discuss the current outbreak, how to protect backyard and commercial flocks, and the steps you should take if you come across a dead wild bird