H5N1: very dangerous for birds, but practically not for humans

H5N1, the strain of avian influenza that is hitting the world today is not insignificant in terms of its impact on its victims, the millions of wild birds and poultry that it has killed in recent months. It is designated by experts as a “highly pathogenic” avian influenza, therefore very capable of making birds sick, but very rarely humans.

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“There are certain strains that can cause significant mortalities in domestic poultry, but this was a virus that was considered low pathogenic. If it entered a farm, it did not cause significant mortality, ”says biologist Ariane Massé, from the Biodiversity and Health of Wild Animals Division at the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks.

But the situation is quite different this year, when hundreds of gannet carcasses have been counted in the Magdalen Islands and around fifty on Bonaventure Island in Percé so far (see other text), not counting the specimens found everywhere along the Gaspé coast and along the river in the Bas-Saint-Laurent.

“Wild birds are the natural reservoir of the virus, mainly waterfowl such as ducks, barnacles and geese. In some species, the birds will not have symptoms, but carry the virus and spread it along the migratory corridors, ”explains Ms. Massé.

The first reports of avian influenza in northern gannets were made around May 14 in the Magdalen Islands and five specimens were sent to the laboratory and were declared positive on May 24.

“We had confirmation that they were carriers of the virus and had lesions in the organs characteristic of avian flu”, mentions the specialist.

In the Gaspé, last week, cases were reported near Bonaventure Island, particularly in the Chandler region. Subsequently, carcasses were found in Baie-des-Chaleurs, near Gaspé and in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts.

The virus that is currently circulating appeared in the fall of 2020 in Europe and at the end of December 2021 in certain regions of North America. Quebec was affected from last April.

The biologist wants to be reassuring, mentioning that the risk of contamination to humans is very low.

“Despite the documented cases, we have only one human case in England and only one case in the United States. They were two people who worked with contaminated domestic poultry. It’s perfectly fine to go to the Magdalen Islands or Bonaventure Island,” concludes the biologist.

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