Turkeys in one barn at a Kitchener, Ont. farm are confirmed to have caught the human pandemic strain of influenza A H1N1, about two months after the virus made its first known crossover to poultry.
The Ontario government emphasized in a release Tuesday that food safety is not at risk, proper cooking practices destroy the influenza virus and in any event, no birds or eggs from this facility have entered the food chain.
Test results indicate that the strain of flu isolated from the turkeys is the same as the H1N1 flu that has been circulating among humans since April 2009, the province said.
According to the Turkey Farmers of Canada in a separate release, the infection occurred in one barn of breeder turkeys where a decreased production of turkey hatching eggs was detected. The virus is not transmissible from the eggs, the group noted.
Hybrid Turkeys of Kitchener confirmed in a separate release Tuesday that its barn was found by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to have had birds with H1N1.
“The flock is showing normal feed and water consumption and is expected to fully recover, consistent with other flus that are more common in turkeys,” the company said.
Local public health units are contacting individuals who may have had contact with the flock. The province’s agriculture, health and labour ministries plan to monitor the situation and work with the farm and its employees.
Hybrid Turkeys, a Canadian arm of Dutch firm Hendrix Genetics, said the most likely source of the virus is from human transmission, noting a “limited number” of employees exhibited cold-like symptoms before the barn’s drop in egg production.
One worker sought medical attention and some employees are now being tested for the virus, the company said.
“The producer has voluntarily quarantined the infected birds and put movement controls in place,” the province added, but the Reuters news agency quoted provincial chief veterinarian Dr. Deb Stark as adding that the farm’s birds weren’t likely to be prematurely slaughtered.
The company said its self-imposed quarantine would remain in effect until its flock is “fully recovered.”
“Influenza viruses such as this circulate amongst birds, livestock and humans,” Stark said in the province’s release.
“This report is a good reminder to farmers to be even more conscientious than usual when it comes to protecting their flocks and ultimately, the people who come in contact with them.”
Hybrid Turkeys, in its release, also asked that the media discontinue visiting its turkey farms and respect its “strict biosecurity measures” which include a shower-in, shower-out policy.
The province’s announcement is the world’s second known case in which turkeys have caught H1N1, after a flock of birds in Chile’s central Valparaiso region tested positive for the virus in August.
The Chilean case was the first known crossover beyond humans and hogs and the first in birds.
No health threat
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Arlene King, added in the same provincial release that she’s “satisfied that this flock does not pose any threat to the health of the general public.”
That said, “in order to protect themselves and the animals they are working with, I strongly advise all poultry and livestock workers to get immunized against the H1N1 flu virus,” King added.
Turkey Farmers of Canada also reminded consumers to always practice safe food handling, adding that turkey meat should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 170°F in the breast, 180°F in the thigh and 165°F for ground turkey.
Canada is no stranger to H1N1, which as of Tuesday is blamed in the deaths of 83 people across the country. The virus, which a number of media outlets worldwide have dubbed “swine flu,” has also appeared in hogs in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec. CFIA no longer requires hog farms with H1N1 to be quarantined.
Worldwide, H1N1 is blamed in over 4,735 human deaths as of Oct. 11, according to the World Health Organization.