Human and avian flus could create a new influenza virus
By Diego Flammini
Officials in British Columbia are encouraging people who work with poultry to consider receiving the flu vaccine this year.
The reason, according to Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, is to minimize the chances of the human flu and avian flu viruses mixing.
“If we have somebody who gets infected with both the human and the bird virus, that virus can re-assort … and create a new influenza virus that could be more infectious to humans,” she said during a Nov. 10 update. “So that’s a risk that’s in the back of our mind all the time with these.”
This has happened with other viruses.
Researchers discovered, for example, that when respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the influenza A virus mixed, the flu virus “is better able to escape antibodies that usually neutralize it.”
Transmission of avian flu to humans is rare.
More than 800 human cases of avian influenza A (H5N1) have been reported since 1997, with most of those occurring in Africa and Asia, Health Canada says.
Canada has had only one case of a person infected with avian flu.
That happened in 2014 when an Alberta woman died from the virus after returning from a trip to China.
That occurrence marked the first North American case of a human dying from avian flu.
B.C. has had a string of recent avian flu cases on farms.
The most recent occurred on Nov. 15 at a commercial poultry operation in Langley, Canadian Food Inspection Agency data shows.
Since then, there’s been at least one case almost every day from Nov. 14 back to the beginning of the month.
In total, 32 B.C. premises are infected with avian flu, the most of any province, and 104 are previously infected. More than 3.7 million birds have been affected by avian flu, the CFIA says.
Nationally, 57 premises are infected with 321 previously infected.
Avian flu has affected almost 8 million birds across Canada.
Anyone interested in receiving a flu vaccine in B.C. can find a location online.
Dr. Henry receives and responds to a question about avian flu at around 59:50 of the video.