First cases of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza in wild birds in Quebec: Update of the situation as of April 19
The Quebec Regional Center / Centre québécois sur la santé des animaux sauvages, in partnership with the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs (MFFP) et le Ministère de l’Agriculture des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation (MAPAQ), documented the first cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in wild birds in Quebec. Three first cases of HPAI subtype H5N1 have been confirmed in wild birds in Quebec so far and 15 cases of avian influenza infections are been characterized as we speak. Cases of avian influenza infection are mainly observed in waterfowl (Cackling goose – 1 case, Canada goose – 6 cases, snow goose – 6 cases). A few birds of prey, which likely become contaminated when eating infected bird carcasses, have also died from this viral condition (red-tailed hawk – 1 case, snowy owl – 2 cases and turkey vulture – 2 cases). These birds were found dead or sick in the south of the province, particularly in the Vallée-du-Richelieu in Montérégie, in Estrie and in the Centre-du-Québec region.
It should be noted that the detection of HPAI cases in Quebec was expected. Indeed, mortality cases associated with this virus have been documented in Canada and the United States since last December. This viral strain has been circulating in Europe since 2020 and was likely introduced to North America through migratory birds.
This virus mainly infects aquatic birds which can be asymptomatic carriers (do not develop the disease). Mortalities have been documented in a large number of wild bird species including different species of ducks, geese, gulls, birds of prey and corvids (e.g., American crow). Most sick birds infected with this virus show neurological signs (shaking of the head, incoordination, inability to fly or move). Although most of the mortality episodes observed so far have involved isolated cases, a mortality of about fifteen snow geese and Canada geese has been documented in Baie-du-Febvre, an important site for waterfowl migration. Since a significant percentage of the infected birds will not develop the disease, it is believed that this virus should not have too much impact on the conservation of wild bird species. However, more research is needed to determine the effect of the presence of this new virus on bird populations in North America.
This virus is highly pathogenic in domestic poultry; a large number of mortalities have been documented in farmed birds since the arrival of this strain in North America. MAPAQ, in collaboration with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, has reported cases of infections in four domestic birds facilities in Quebec so far. This virus can therefore have significant consequences for the poultry industry. MAPAQ reiterates the importance of avoiding any contact between farmed poultry and wild birds. In the event of unusual mortality in a bird farm, it is essential to consult a veterinarian.
Although highly pathogenic in birds, this strain of influenza virus rarely infect people. In fact, despite having been present in Europe for almost 2 years, only one human case of infection has been documented in England in January 2022 (this person had no symptoms and worked in a contaminated domestic poultry farm). No human cases have been identified in the United States or Canada so far. Nevertheless, it is still recommended to follow certain basic measures in order to reduce the risk of exposure to avian influenza and other potential zoonotic agents. For example, avoid handling wild birds with bare hands, or if contact cannot be avoided, wear gloves and wash your hands with soap and hot water (or with a hydroalcoholic solution).
It is possible to report the presence of a dead or sick wild bird by contacting the MFFP at 1 877 346-6763, while avoiding handling it while waiting for instructions.
For more information on the situation in Quebec, visit the following web pages for more details on
avian influenza (https://www.quebec.ca/en/agriculture-environment-and-natural-resources/animal-health/animal-diseases/avian-influenza),
small game hunting (https://www.quebec.ca/en/tourism-and-recreation/sporting-and-outdoor-activities/sport-hunting/game/small-game)
or feeding wild birds – in French (https://mffp.gouv.qc.ca/la-faune/securite-sante-maladies/conseils-nourrissage-oiseaux/)
Submitted by CWHC – Quebec / CQSAS