B.C. poultry staff told to vaccinate against flu as avian strains spread among birds

VICTORIA — British Columbia's provincial health officer says people living or working on poultry farms should "prioritize" getting influenza vaccinations as avian flu spreads among flocks this fall.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says while avian flu does not transmit easily from birds to humans, infections "can happen and are very concerning" because of the potential for the virus to mix with human influenza and mutate into something much more contagious.

Henry told a news briefing that health officials are well aware of the risks if a human becomes infected with both avian flu and standard influenza strains, and that is why people connected to poultry farms are being asked to vaccinate against the human strains right away.

The number of B.C. poultry flocks infected with avian flu has grown dramatically in recent weeks, with Canadian Food Inspection Agency data showing nine commercial infected zones, mostly in the Fraser Valley.

Provincial trends for other respiratory illnesses including COVID-19 have meanwhile slowed, with data from the BC Centre for Disease Control showing sharp drops in hospitalization, deaths and positivity rates for the coronavirus.

However, Henry is warning residents to remain vigilant, with COVID-19 outbreaks continuing in hospitals.

Island Health said in a statement earlier Thursday that an outbreak had been declared at the centre unit of Saanich Peninsula Hospital, with 15 patients infected and all experiencing mild illness.

There are also ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at Abbotsford Regional and Chilliwack General hospitals in the Fraser Health region.

The CDC says there were 144 new COVID-19 hospitalizations in the week ending Nov. 4, fewer than half the 296 hospitalizations three weeks earlier.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2023.

The Canadian Press