H7N9 Communique to First Nations in BC


Updated Jan. 30

The Public Health Agency of Canada has confirmed the first two known cases of H7N9 in Canada as residents of BC recently returned from a trip to China together. The risk to First Nations and Canadians is very low and there is currently no evidence to suggest that H7N9 transmits easily from person-to-person. The confirmed individuals were not symptomatic during travel and only developed symptoms after returning to Canada, both individuals are currently in self-isolation, recovering from the illness and not requiring hospitalization.

These are the first documented human case of H7N9 in North America but it is emphasized that the risk to others is very low because there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of H7N9. The individuals with confirmed H7N9 in BC became sick after returning to Canada on January 12 after travelling to various locations in China. The first individual was not symptomatic during travel and only began to feel unwell on January 14. At that time they sought medical attention but were not sick enough to require hospitalization. Both cases became symptomatic one day apart and it is likely they were exposed to a common source rather than one having been infected by the other. 

H7N9 is a strain of avian influenza which is known to be circulating among birds in China.  It has not been found in any birds in Canada.  It is not easily transmitted among humans, so it has never been included in the "seasonal influenza" immunization—in other words, not only is H7N9 different from the avian flu you may have heard about which has affected birds in BC, it also is different from "seasonal flu". We are sending you this message just for your general information, because you might have heard about H7N9 in the news.  There are no precautions you need to take or any worries you should have about this virus.

To date, the H7N9 strain has not been detected in birds in Canada. The Travel Health Notices on www.travel.gc.ca provide information on how to protect yourself from avian influenza while abroad. There is no risk of catching the virus by eating well-cooked poultry and Canada does not import raw poultry or raw poultry products from China.

Although it is not known at this time how the individual contracted the virus, for First Nations and Canadians who may be travelling abroad, it is recommended to:

• Avoid high-risk areas such as poultry farms and live animal markets
• Avoid unnecessary contact with birds, including chickens, ducks and wild birds
• Avoid surfaces that may have bird droppings or secretions on them
• Ensure that all poultry dishes are well cooked, including eggs

The symptoms of H7N9 are initially similar to the seasonal flu and can include:

• Fever
• Cough
• Sore throat
• Muscle aches and fatigue
• Loss of appetite
• Runny or stuffy nose

The symptoms can become severe, including pneumonia, persistent fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

First Nations can help protect themselves and their loved ones from the flu in general by: 

• Getting an annual influenza shot
• Washing hands frequently
• Covering coughs and sneezes
• Keeping common surfaces clean
• Staying home when sick

The most current information on cases and official case numbers are available on the World Health Organization's Global Alert and Response website.