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Swine Flu Discovered in Ontario Turkey Flock


Ontario has confirmed a swine flu infection at a turkey breeding farm but health officials say it doesn't pose a threat to human health, and the birds were never meant to enter the food supply system.

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews says the outbreak affected a breeder's flock of turkeys, but wouldn't say where the outbreak occurred.

She says the main concern is that the H1N1 infection would spread through the flock.

No birds or eggs from the unidentified facility have entered the food chain since the turkeys were raised for breeder stock. There are no plans for a cull of the facility's turkey population as the birds are expected to recover.

"Although rare, this finding is not unexpected. This essentially human virus has been identified previously in swine and poultry," said Ontario's chief veterinarian, Dr. Deb Stark, at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

"Our working hypothesis is that this situation likely involved human-to-bird transmission."

The turkey farmer has voluntarily quarantined the infected birds. There will not be a cull.

"Our best understanding at this time is that birds get influenza, they get better, they get over it," said Matthews. "So we don't anticipate a cull."

Even if the Turkeys entered the food chain, thoroughly cooking the meat would destroy any influenza virus.

Local public health units are contacting those who may have had contact with the flock, Ontario chief medical officer of health Dr. Arlene King confirmed at the news conference.

King reiterated that all farm workers who develop the flu or a flu-like illness should avoid any contact with livestock. They should also get immunized against swine flu and seasonal flu once those shots become available.

"We have to do all we can to stop the transmission of viruses between people and animals. The risk is the potential changes to the virus against which people could have reduced or no immunity," King said.

The new H1N1 virus, which emerged in March 2009 and was declared a pandemic in June, contains the DNA components of pig flu viruses as well as bird and human flu viruses.

"Influenza viruses such as this circulate amongst birds, livestock and humans," said Stark.

"This report is a good reminder to farmers to be even more conscientious than usual when it comes to protecting their flocks and ultimately, the people who come in contact with them."

The turkey farm infection appears to be the first in Canada and represents the second animal-species infection in the country.

Last April, swine flu appeared in pigs on an Alberta farm and has since been found in other swine herds in the country.

Chile has confirmed cases of swine flu in turkeys as well. At the time, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization said the incidents of turkey infection didn't pose an immediate threat to humans. It said turkey meat could still be sold commercially following proper inspections.


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