Avian influenza (bird flu) has been detected in Canada. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responding to cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in farmed birds, backyard poultry flocks and wild birds in Canada. If you have farm animals or backyard poultry flocks, practice infection prevention and control and biosecurity habits.

There are a variety of diseases transmissible from animals to people. Diseases of public health significance include avian chlamydiosis (psittacosis), avian influenza, novel influenza, and parasitic infections caused by Echinococcus multilocularis.

Avian chlamydiosis is a disease of birds, caused by the bacterium Chlamydophila psittaci. Although most species of birds are able to transmit the disease, the most common are psittacine (parrot-type) birds, especially cockatiels and budgerigars (commonly called parakeets or budgies). Avian chlamydiosis can also occur in poultry, pigeons and doves as well as canaries and finches, but is less frequently diagnosed in these birds.

Birds can transmit avian chlamydiosis to humans, causing human psittacosis. The transmission of avian chlamydiosis to humans occurs when a person inhales dust or other dried secretions from birds. Bacterial infections caused by C. psittaci can cause severe pneumonia and other serious health problems in humans.

Prevention

While there is no vaccine to prevent human psittacosis, there are several things you can do to protect yourself and others, including:

  • Buy pet birds only from a reputable pet store or source.
  • If you own pet birds or poultry, follow best handling and cleaning practices for birds and cages, including:
    • Keep cages clean; clean cages and food and water bowls daily.
    • Position cages so that food, feathers, and droppings cannot spread between them. For example, do not stack cages and use solid-sided cases or barriers if cages are next to each other.
    • Avoid over-crowding of birds.
    • Isolate and treat infected birds; consult your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your bird is sick.
    • Use water or disinfectant to wet surfaces before cleaning bird cages or surfaces contaminated with bird droppings. Avoid dry sweeping or vacuuming to minimize circulation of feathers and dust.
    • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after contact with birds or their droppings.
    • Use personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and appropriate masks, when handling infected birds or cleaning their cages.

Avian influenza (bird flu) is a disease that can affect all species of birds. There are at least 15 types of avian influenza, and all are caused by various strains of type A influenza virus. Avian influenza is spread by direct contact between infected birds and healthy birds. It can also be spread when healthy birds come in contact with equipment or materials (including water and feed) that have been contaminated with feces or secretions from infected birds.

Although avian influenza A viruses circulates among birds, the viruses can occasionally infect other species. While rare, transmission of this virus to humans usually occurs through exposure to infected poultry or contaminated environments, such as live poultry markets. Most avian influenza viruses do not cause disease in humans. However, there are some strains that can cause illness in humans. Illness in humans from avian influenza A virus infections range in severity from no symptoms or mild illness. Some strains that are rarely transmitted to humans can lead to death.

Signs of Avian Influenza in Birds

Wild aquatic birds can be infected with avian influenza A viruses. Some species, such as ducks, may not get sick even though they are infected. Other infected birds, such as chickens, ducks and turkeys may show one or many of these signs:

  • Loss or lack of appetite
  • Lethargy, namely a lack of energy or movement
  • Tremors or lack of coordination, for example tremors
  • Decreased egg production for poultry or pet birds
  • Swelling around the head, neck and eyes
  • Coughing and/or sneezing
  • Other symptoms such as diarrhea, and potentially sudden death

Prevention

There are several things you can do to protect yourself and others from avian influenza, including:

  • Stay away from wild birds; if observing them, do so from a distance.
  • Only keep birds as pets if obtained from a reputable source; do not keep or care for wild birds.
  • Avoid contact with domestic birds (poultry) that appear sick or have died.
  • Avoid contact with surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from wild or domestic birds.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after unavoidable contact with birds or their droppings.
  • Practice safe food handling and cooking practices for poultry and poultry products such as eggs.
  • If you see a sick or dead wild bird, do not touch it or go near it. Contact 311 Toronto. Be prepared to submit additional details (e.g., location of the bird, options for carcass submission) to ensure City staff can arrange to pick up and submit the animals for testing.
  • If you own or care for a backyard flock, there are additional steps to take to protect yourself and your birds from bird flu or other diseases.
  • Reduce spread of avian influenza more widely by preventing contact between wild birds with each other and with your pets; consider removing backyard bird feeders and/or bird baths or move them far away from pets and clean them with 10% bleach at least once every two weeks with good hand hygiene.

Novel influenza viruses are any type of influenza viruses that are newly discovered in Ontario’s mammals. For example, swine influenza viruses in pigs, equine influenza viruses in horses, and canine influenza in dogs.

Swine, equine and canine influenza viruses rarely infect humans, however occasionally they do. It is believed that the 2009-2010 pandemic influenza virus was the result of swine influenza transmission from pigs to humans. Transmission of novel influenza viruses from animals to humans usually occurs when an infected animal coughs or sneezes and aerosol droplets spread through the air and come in contact with humans.

Prevention

There are several things you can do to protect yourself and others from novel influenza, including:

  • Stay away from sick animals such as poultry or swine.
  • Avoid contact with surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from animals.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after unavoidable contact with animals or their droppings. Hand sanitizer can be used instead of soap and water if hands are not visibly dirty.

Echinococcus multilocularis is a small tapeworm found commonly in the northern hemisphere. To date, there have only been a few cases of E. multilocularis infections of dogs and cats detected in Ontario. Dogs (or animals such as foxes and coyotes) and rarely cats are the main hosts for the tapeworm.

Humans can be infected by E. multilocularis tapeworms, which can cause alveolar echinococcosis (AE). E. multilocularis infection of humans and animals occurs when there is contact with infective E. multilocularis tapeworm eggs found in the environment or from other animals. For example, transmission to humans mainly occurs through poor hygiene when handling feces, or ingesting microscopic E. multilocularis tapeworm eggs that may be stuck on an animal’s coat.

Prevention

There are several things you can do to protect yourself and others from being infected with E. multilocularis, including:

  • Stay away from all wild animals, whether they appear tame, injured, or sick; this includes not feeding wild animals on public or private property.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after:
    • Unavoidable contact with wild animals or their droppings.
    • Contact with pets before handling and/or consuming food.
    • Handling soil from a garden or outdoor environment.
  • Hand sanitizer can be used instead of soap and water if hands are not visibly dirty.
  • Practice safe food handling and cooking practices including washing ready to eat foods such as fruits and vegetables before consumption.
  • Keep pets clean; wash and bathe pets as soon as possible if they have rolled in feces or the carcass of a dead animal.

There are also several things you can do to protect your dog from being infected with E. multilocularis, including:

  • Prevent dogs from roaming off-leash in unknown areas; keep dogs on a leash.
  • Do not allow pets to handle or ingest live or dead rodents.
  • Do not allow pets to consume any food or water that may have been contaminated by fecal matter from dogs, or other wild animals.
  • Have your pet examined by a veterinarian at least once per year; deworm dogs with praziquantel, as recommended by your veterinarian.