Public Health Notice Update: H7N9 avian flu

Information is reviewed on a regular basis and updated as required.

30 Jan 2015

Why you should take note

Since the first notification at the end of March 2013, China has been reporting to the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed cases of a type of avian influenza virus in humans identified as A(H7N9). Most cases develop severe pneumonia and breathing difficulties with some resulting in death. Official numbers are available here.

Two individuals in British Columbia (B.C) have tested positive for the H7N9 avian influenza strain. They returned to Canada from China on January 12, 2015. They were not symptomatic during travel and only became ill after arriving in Canada and they did not require hospitalization. These are the first documented cases of H7N9 infection in humans in North America.

Risk to Canadians

The risk to Canadians of getting sick with H7N9 remains very low as evidence suggests that it does not transmit easily from person-to-person.

The avian influenza (H7N9) virus causing illness in people in China has not been identified in birds in Canada.

In addition to these Canadian cases, travel-related cases have been confirmed outside mainland China in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia, following poultry exposure traced to a number of eastern provinces in China. However, there is no indication that international spread has occurred, as contacts of the travelers did not develop illness.

All evidence regarding the Canadian cases indicates they were likely infected following exposure in China. They were not symptomatic during travel and only became ill after arrival in Canada. All close contacts of these individuals have been identified and their health is being monitored by provincial public health authorities.

There is no risk of catching the flu virus by eating well-cooked poultry. Canada does not import raw poultry or raw poultry products from China.

Canadians can help protect themselves and their fellow citizens from influenza in general by:

  • Washing hands frequently;
  • Covering coughs and sneezes;
  • Keeping common surfaces clean; and
  • Staying home when sick.

Travel information

While the Agency is not advising any travel restrictions related to this event at this time, a Travel Health Notice has been posted to provide advice to Canadian travellers. We will continue to monitor this situation very closely and advise Canadians as appropriate.

What the Public Health Agency of Canada is doing

The Public Health Agency is working closely with its national and international partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO), to monitor flu activity in Canada and around the world.

The Agency has notified China, the WHO and other international partners about the case, in keeping with our commitment under the International Health Regulations.

The full extent of the outbreak in China continues to be investigated by Chinese health authorities and experts from the WHO. However, most infections are believed to have occurred after exposure to infected poultry or contaminated environments.

Activities that the Agency is engaged in include the following:

  • on an ongoing basis, the Agency and international partners assess the risk of H7N9 being transmitted to Canadian travellers. The Agency also works with the Canada Border Services Agency, international partners, and health and point of entry authorities to support the screening and detection of ill international travellers.
  • liaising with the Chinese infectious disease prevention authorities on this outbreak through an Agency medical expert based in Beijing.
  • posting information to support professionals working in the field or otherwise affected by this issue:

The Agency's National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) has diagnostic tests available that can rapidly detect the H7N9 virus as well as antibodies against the virus. The diagnosis of H7N9 in the Canadian cases was confirmed by the Agency's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

Having the ability to detect H7N9 antibodies in people is important as it signals previous exposure to the virus.

Additionally, the Agency's NML is:

  • providing technical expertise and working closely with provincial public health laboratories to ensure they also have the tools and tests required to detect the H7N9 virus.
  • collaborating closely and regularly with counterparts in the United States and Europe, sharing important scientific information on this new flu strain.
  • conducting advanced research on a live sample of the H7N9 virus, including:
    • determining if antiviral drugs are effective against the virus.

All research work with the live H7N9 virus is being done under strictly controlled settings in high-containment laboratories.

Additional information

Media Contact

Public Health Agency of Canada
Media Relations
(613) 957-2983

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