Bird flu is suspected in the deaths of several birds in Brampton and the town of Caledon, days after outbreaks of the highly contagious H5N1 virus were detected at two farms in southern Ontario.
Peel Public Health announced on Friday that “a number of dead birds” have been discovered in recent days and have been sent for testing to determine the cause of death.
“In Brampton, the birds were found at Professor’s Lake,” the organization said in a statement. “In the town of Caledon, the dead birds were found in a pond near Coleraine Dr. and Harvest Moon Dr. and town staff closed a nearby trail.”
There were around 20 dead birds found in Caledon, including geese; it is not known how many birds were recovered in Brampton.
The birds are currently being examined by the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative and, if confirmed, could be the first cases of bird flu detected in the GTA. The announcement comes a day after the Toronto Zoo closed its aviaries as a precaution.
Although this particular strain of bird flu circulating in Ontario is highly contagious and deadly to birds, Health Canada notes that transmission from birds to humans is much rarer. But Health Canada is warning Canadians not to touch sick or dead wild birds and to keep pets away.
“While avian flu is a threat to birds, the risk to humans is very low,” said Dr. Nicholas Brandon, acting medical officer for the Region of Peel. “Most cases of human avian influenza have been attributed to handling infected poultry or their droppings.”
To limit the spread of the virus, Peel Public Health is asking residents to consider removing bird feeders and birdbaths — or at least cleaning them regularly with 10% bleach. Bird gathering places should be kept “as far away as possible from family pets”.
They also recommend keeping pet birds indoors if possible and monitoring pets and livestock for symptoms of bird flu.
What are the symptoms of avian flu in birds?
Avian flu is currently an incurable disease in birds, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). Although it can be fatal, some infected birds may appear asymptomatic and healthy.
Common symptoms include: lack of energy; decreased egg production; decrease in food consumption; excessive thirst; breathing problems like coughing, sneezing and difficulty breathing; nerve problems like tremors or lack of coordination; diarrhea; and “sudden death”.
If you suspect your birds have the disease, you are legally required to notify the authorities — call a veterinarian or the nearest CFIA animal health office. The agency will come to your location to investigate and may place a quarantine on your location.
If you have recently spotted a sick or dead wild bird, the CFIA asks you to contact the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative for testing.
What are the symptoms of bird flu in humans?
Although relatively rare, bird flu is known to spread to mammals, including humans. According to Ottawa Public Health, symptoms in humans resemble those of the flu and may include: fever, chills, runny nose, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, watery eyes or difficulty breathing.
Health Canada strongly recommends that people who develop flu symptoms 10 days after handling wild birds contact their health care provider and tell them they have been exposed to wildlife.
But, notes Peel Public Health: “There are no indicators of increased risk for the general public at this time.”
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