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Avian flu not a threat, officials say

Jessica Gray
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 26/06) - NWT hunters shouldn't worry about getting the avian flu.

That's what two public health officials said during a press conference on April 21, although Dr. Andre Corriveau, chief medical officer for the NWT, admits no wild birds in the NWT have been tested for the strain.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Dr. David Butler Jones, chief public health officer for the Public Health Agency of Canada: there are no known cases of wild birds transmitting flu to hunters. - Jessica Gray/NNSL photo

"The NWT did not participate in the national surveillance plan last year," said Corriveau.

There are plans to add the NWT to a national surveillance program this year, where wild birds are tested for the Asian avian flu, also known as the asian strain of N1H5, he said.

Dr. David Butler Jones, chief medical officer for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said no known cases of wild birds transmitting the flu to hunters has been recorded.

The particularly "nasty" Asian bird flu has not been reported in Canada or the United States, he said.

"Birds in North America have (versions) of the N1H5 strain, but not the Asian strain," said Jones.

The Asian strain of N1H5 is responsible for the culling of millions of birds all in Europe and Asia this year alone.

Hundreds of people have died, mostly in Asia, from being infected with the bird flu since 1997 when the strain was identified, according to Corriveau and Jones.

Public health is opening up a dialogue with Northern communities because there is a possibility of a flu pandemic originating from the Asian bird flu.

Corriveau said the places most at risk for getting the Asian strain of bird flu are the coastal regions of Canada like British Columbia where a North American N1H5 strain - a strain that cannot be passed to humans yet - of the bird flu was found in 2004.

Angela James, principal of the Kalemi Dene school in Ndilo, organizes an annual duck plucking cultural camp.

She spoke to the school's public nurse about bird flu and said she was told there was nothing to worry about.

But to prevent the spread of other diseases and bacteria birds are known to carry like salmonella, James makes sure children wash their hands with antibacterial soap before and after plucking the ducks. She keeps the birds frozen before they are taken to the camp.

"We collect the fowl in small groups and place them in freezer bags," said James.

Officials are warning hunters not to eat sick animals, use gloves when handling birds, wash hands thoroughly, and cook the birds properly to prevent any chance contamination.

Jones described sick birds as acting oddly and not flying away when approached.

Northerners are asked to report any dead birds they find.