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Avian influenza A(H7N9) virus

Frequently Asked Questions

Last reviewed: October 11, 2017
Last updated: October 11, 2017

The World Health Organization has developed Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on human infection with the Asian lineage avian influenza A(H7N9) virus.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has developed additional FAQs for health care workers and health sector employers on this situation as it relates to the people of Ontario.

What is the latest update on the avian influenza A(H7N9) virus situation in China?

The H7N9 situation in China continues to evolve. For the most up to date information on the H7N9 situation, visit the World Health Organization's website.

Has anyone tested positive for avian influenza A(H7N9) in Ontario?

No one has tested positive for avian influenza A(H7N9) in Ontario.

British Columbia reported two travel-related cases of Asian lineage avian influenza A(H7N9) in 2015. Both of these travel-related cases recovered.

What is the risk of avian influenza A(H7N9) to the people of Ontario?

The risk posed to humans by avian influenza in birds is generally very low. Avian influenza does not transmit easily from birds to infect humans and requires direct exposure to infected birds or environments that have been contaminated by infected birds.

The strain of H7N9 causing illness in people in China has not been identified in birds in Canada.

There is no risk of catching the influenza virus by eating affected poultry that has been thoroughly cooked. Canada does not import raw poultry or raw poultry products from China.

What is avian influenza?

Avian influenza is a viral infection of birds and only rarely passes to humans. It is usually only found among those who are in close contact with poultry or contaminated environments, such as live poultry markets. Very rare human-to-human transmission has been reported for some strains of avian influenza.

Can the avian influenza A(H7N9) virus be detected by laboratory tests in Ontario?

Yes. The Public Health Ontario Laboratories and Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory have the capability to detect the H7N9 virus.

What is the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care doing about the avian influenza A(H7N9) virus? Has the ministry alerted health care workers and health sector employers to the H7N9 situation?

The ministry is working with the Public Health Agency of Canada, Public Health Ontario, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs to gather and analyze information on this situation. The ministry will continue to work closely with its partners to monitor and assess the risk of avian influenza A(H7N9) to the people of Ontario.

The ministry is providing guidance to health care workers and health sector employers on what to be on the lookout for, laboratory testing and treatment recommendations and appropriate occupational health & safety and infection prevention & control measures at www.ontario.ca/avianinfluenza. The ministry will continue to share information with health system partners and the public.

What should health care workers do if they suspect a case?

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has provided health care workers with guidance on what to do if they suspect one of their patients has avian influenza A(H7N9), including laboratory testing and treatment recommendations as well as appropriate occupational health & safety and infection prevention & control measures. The guidance can be found at www.ontario.ca/avianinfluenza

What is the recommended treatment for cases?

In February 2017, the World Health Organization reported that that samples taken from several human cases of the Asian lineage avian influenza A(H7N9) virus demonstrated resistance to neuraminidase inhibitors (oseltamivir and zanamivir), a type of antiviral medication used for the treatment and prevention of influenza. However, the vast majority of samples from this virus remain susceptible to neuraminidase inhibitors.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has provided health care workers with treatment recommendations.

Is the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care recommending that health care workers take any special precautions to protect themselves against the avian influenza A(H7N9) virus?

The ministry has provided health care workers and health sector employers with guidance on occupational health & safety and infection prevention & control measures for H7N9. These recommendations include:

  • hand hygiene
  • use of airborne infection isolation rooms (AIIRs) when possible
  • masking the patient with a surgical mask (if tolerated) when outside of an AIIR
  • use of gloves, gowns, fit-tested, seal-checked N95 respirators and eye protection when entering the patient’s room or when transporting or caring for the patient

Who is responsible for providing health care workers with personal protective equipment?

Health sector employers are required, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, to ensure that health care workers are provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect them from workplace hazards, including the avian influenza A(H7N9) virus. As per O. Reg. 67/93, employers must ensure that PPE is used and maintained; is properly fitted, is inspected for damage or deterioration and is stored in a convenient, clean and sanitary location when not in use.

Are health care workers required to use PPE?

As per the Occupational Health and Safety Act, health care workers must use PPE required by the employer. A worker who is required by his or her employer or by O. Reg. 67/93 to wear or use any protective clothing, equipment or device is required to be instructed and trained in its care, use and limitations before wearing or using it for the first time, and at regular intervals thereafter. Health care workers are required to participate in such instruction and training provided by the employer. Employers covered by the O. Reg. 67/93 are required to, in consultation with the Joint Health and Safety Committee (or Health and Safety Representative, if any), develop, establish and put into effect written measures and procedures regarding the use, wearing and care of PPE and its limitations.

What if this becomes an influenza pandemic? Is Ontario ready?

Ontario developed the Ontario Health Plan for an Influenza Pandemic (OHPIP) to provide guidance to the health system on actions to prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care developed the OHPIP in close collaboration with Public Health Ontario, the Ministry of Labour and other partners from across the health system, including health associations, unions, regulatory bodies and other government organizations.

As part of the OHPIP development process, the ministry worked with its health system partners to review the lessons learned and best practices from the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, as well as the latest scientific and technical evidence on influenza and emergency management.

Is it safe to travel to China?

The World Health Organization and Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) are not advising the application of any travel restrictions related to this event at this time. PHAC has posted a Travel Health Notice for Canadians planning travel to China and a Public Health Notice with additional information for Canadians. The notice provides general suggestions for how individuals can reduce their risk of being exposed to the avian influenza (H7N9) virus, such as practicing hand hygiene and cough etiquette.

For More Information

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
Health System Emergency Management Branch
1075 Bay Street, Suite 810
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M5S 2B1
Fax : 416-212-4466
TTY : 1-800-387-5559
E-mail : emergencymanagement.moh@ontario.ca

 

Health workers and health sector employers can call the Healthcare Provider Hotline for more information
Toll free : 1-866-212-2272

CritiCall Ontario provides a 24 hour call centre for hospitals to contact on-call specialists; arrange for appropriate hospital bed access and facilitate urgent triage for patients
1-800-668-4357