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Bird flu risk for pets low after Ontario dog dies: experts


As bird flu continues to spread in Canada, even infecting mammals, an expert says the risk of transmission to humans and pets is low, but health officials should remain on high alert.

Health officials announced earlier this week that a pet dog in Oshawa, Ont., died after testing positive for H5N1, the virus that causes avian flu. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Public Health Agency of Canada said the dog developed symptoms after chewing a wild goose.

But Dr. Shayan Sharif, professor and acting dean of the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, says that at present the risk to pets remains “very low”.

“What could be the risk in the future? I think if the virus starts mutating and adapts more to mammals, then things could be different,” he said in an interview with CTVNews.ca on Wednesday. . “At this time, I would say the risk of transmission is very low.”

This was the first and only case so far of a pet dog contracting avian flu in Canada, which is also a rare case worldwide. A case of bird flu in a dog was reported in Thailand in 2004 and described in a 2006 case report. A 2008 study in Germany and Austria also found that the H5N1 virus was present in 1.8% of a population of 171 cats.

“The virus has happened to be transmitted from birds to dogs and cats and there is good evidence that dogs and cats could be infected, but not frequently. It is only rarely that they are infected,” Sharif said.

Bird flu has also infected other mammals. Last month, several Vancouver-area skunks were found dead after testing positive for the virus. Avian flu has also been found in foxes, seals, dolphins, black bears, mink, raccoons and porpoises across Canada.

Sharif notes that H5N1 is well-adapted to avian species, but not so well-adapted to mammals, making transmission between mammals difficult.

“When (bird flu) jumps from birds to mammals, those mammals usually become the so-called ‘terminal hosts’, which means they can’t try to transmit the virus to other mammals. And it doesn’t There is no evidence yet that, for example, dogs can transmit the virus to other dogs or transmit the virus to their owners, to humans,” he explained.

However, if the virus mutates to be better suited to mammals, Sharif says it’s “a step closer to achieving the ability for mammal-to-mammal transmission.”

“That’s precisely what we hope he can never do.”

Since 2022, avian flu has wreaked havoc on the poultry industry, affecting 7.2 million birds in Canada as of March 29. Currently, 59 farms across Canada are dealing with outbreaks, while previous outbreaks have occurred on 245 farms.

Canadian health authorities are urging pet owners not to feed their pets raw game bird or poultry meat and never allow their pets to consume or play with dead wild birds found outdoors .

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