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Public Health Notice: H7N9 avian flu in China

21 Dec 2014
Information is reviewed on a regular basis and updated as required.

Why you should take note

Since the first notification at the end of March 2013, China has been reporting to the World Health OrganizationExternal site (WHO) confirmed cases of a type of avian influenza virus in humans identified as A(H7N9). Most cases develop severe pneumonia and breathing difficulties with some resulting in death. Official numbers are available hereExternal site.

Risk to Canadians

The avian influenza (H7N9) virus causing illness in people in China has not been identified in people or birds in Canada.

While emerging information suggests the possibility of some limited human-to-human transmission of this virus in China, there has been no evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission. The risk to Canadians remains low.

Outside mainland China, travel-related cases have been confirmed in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia, following poultry exposure traced to a number of eastern provinces in China. However, there is no indication that international spread has occurred, as contacts of the travelers did not develop illness.

There is no risk of catching the flu virus by eating well-cooked poultry. Canada does not import raw poultry or raw poultry products from China.

Canadians can help protect themselves and their fellow citizens from influenza in general by:

  • Washing hands frequently;
  • Covering coughs and sneezes;
  • Keeping common surfaces clean; and
  • Staying home when sick.

Travel information

While the Agency is not advising any travel restrictions related to this event at this time, a Travel Health Notice has been posted to provide advice to Canadian travellers. We will continue to monitor this situation very closely and advise Canadians as appropriate.

What the Public Health Agency of Canada is doing

The Public Health Agency is working closely with its national and international partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO), to monitor flu activity in Canada and around the world.

The full extent of this outbreak, the source of infection and mode of transmission are currently unknown. Chinese health authorities and experts from the WHO continue to investigate the outbreak.

Activities that the Agency is engaged in include the following:

  • on an ongoing basis, the Agency and international partners assess the risk of H7N9 being transmitted to Canadian travellers. The Agency also works with the Canada Border Services Agency, international partners, and health and point of entry authorities to support the screening and detection of ill international travellers.
  • liaising with the Chinese infectious disease prevention authorities on this outbreak through an Agency medical expert based in Beijing.
  • posting information to support professionals working in the field or otherwise affected by this issue:

The Agency’s National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) has diagnostic tests available that can rapidly detect the H7N9 virus as well as antibodies against the virus. Having the ability to detect H7N9 antibodies in people is important as it signals previous exposure to the virus.

Additionally, the Agency’s NML is:

  • providing technical expertise and working closely with provincial public health laboratories to ensure they also have the tools and tests required to detect the H7N9 virus.
  • collaborating closely and regularly with counterparts in the United States and Europe, sharing important scientific information on this new flu strain.
  • conducting advanced research on a live sample of the H7N9 virus, including:
    • determining if antiviral drugs are effective against the virus and
    • developing and testing vaccines to determine if they protect against the virus.

All research work with the live H7N9 virus is being done under strictly controlled settings in high-containment laboratories.

Additional information

Media Contact

Public Health Agency of Canada
Media Relations
(613) 957-2983