A dog in Canada’s Ontario province has died of H5N1 bird flu after coming into contact with wild birds, health officials said. It is believed to be the first time a dog has tested positive for the new strain of the virus.
A dog in Oshawa, Ontario has tested positive for avian influenza after chewing on a dead goose, the Canadian Public Health Agency said in a statement. The dog developed clinical signs of bird flu and died a few days later.
“Both the dog and goose were tested for the H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus, and both were positive,” said Dr. Scott Wiese, director of the university’s Center for Public Health and Zoonoses.
“The virus was sequenced at the National Center for Foreign Animal Diseases and the virus from both the dog and goose was the same, and consistent with the H5N1 strain circulating in wild birds and domestic poultry,” he said.
It is believed to be the first time a dog has been infected with the new strain of H5N1, which emerged in late 2021. In 2004, a dog in Thailand died of an earlier strain of H5N1 after eating a duck infected with the virus. .
In December, a cat from a poultry farm in southern France also tested positive for the new strain of H5N1. The cat became ill and was euthanized on December 23.
“Based on current evidence in Canada, the risk to the general public remains low and current scientific evidence suggests that the risk of infectious avian influenza to humans from a domestic pet is small,” the government said in a statement.
Still, pet owners are advised not to feed any raw meat from game birds or poultry to pets – such as dogs and cats – and to not allow them to eat or play with wild birds.
Dr Wiese called the case “relevant but not surprising” and “not a doomsday scenario”.
“This is worrisome because any shedding in mammals raises concerns about the continued adaptation of this virus to birds for transmission outside,” he said. “It’s not surprising because when you have millions of infected birds internationally, it’s inevitable that domestic and wild mammals will be exposed.”
According to the National Center for Foreign Animal Diseases, a wide range of animals in Canada have tested positive for bird flu over the past year, including foxes, seals, dolphins, black bears, wild mink, porpoises and skunks.
The global spread of H5N1 clade 126.96.36.199b – and more recently in an increasing number of mammals – has raised concerns about the possibility of future variants that could be transmitted from human to human. So far, only a few human cases have been found after exposure to infected birds.
“The global H5N1 situation is alarming due to the widespread spread of the virus in birds worldwide and increasing reports of cases in mammals, including humans,” said Dr. Sylvie Briand, a WHO official, said on February 24. The risk of this virus is serious and calls for heightened vigilance from all countries.”
Last week, Chile reported that more than 1,500 sea lions were believed to have died from H5N1 bird flu, following the deaths of at least 3,500 sea lions in neighboring Peru. Chile reported its first human case of bird flu on March 29.