Canada reported an outbreak of the highly pathogenic bird flu virus H5N1 in British Columbia, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) said on Monday.
The outbreak was detected on Feb. 2 in a backyard poultry flock in the province of British Columbia, where bird flu cases of the separate H5N2 strain had been reported in December, it said, citing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
The agency stressed that H5N1 avian influenza had not been reported in a commercial poultry flock in Canada and that the virus found in British Columbia was different from a strain circulating in Asia.
High pathogenic H5N1 bird flu first infected humans in 1997 in Hong Kong. It has since spread from Asia to Europe and Africa and has become entrenched in poultry in some countries, causing millions of poultry infections and several hundred human deaths.
“Based on the limited partial sequence of the H5 and N1 gene segments obtained this far, it appears very likely that this is the same or a very similar virus to the … H5N1 virus in Washington State, but more sequencing will be needed to make a final conclusion,” the CFIA said in its report.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu was found earlier this year on a green-winged teal in the U.S. state of Washington near the border with Canada.
According to the World Health Organization and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, H5N1 pathogenicity is gradually continuing to rise in endemic areas, but the avian influenza disease situation in farmed birds is being held in check by vaccination, and so far there is “no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission” of the virus. Eleven outbreaks of H5N1 were reported worldwide in June 2008 in five countries (China, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam) compared to 65 outbreaks in June 2006 and 55 in June 2007. The global HPAI situation significantly improved in the first half of 2008, but the FAO reports that imperfect disease surveillance systems mean that occurrence of the virus remains underestimated and underreported. In July 2013 the WHO announced a total of 630 confirmed human cases which resulted in the deaths of 375 people since 2003.