Just when all those turkeys that managed to survive Thanksgiving weekend thought their troubles were over, there’s new issue: H1N1 influenza (formerly known as swine flu) has been found in an Ontario turkey flock.  The H1N1 virus was first reported in birds in Chile in late August.

This is not a reason to panic.  No one can get the flu from eating a properly-cooked Thanksgiving turkey (nor from any other type of properly-cooked turkey).  The producer has voluntarily (and very responsibly) quarantined the affected flock, and no birds or eggs have left the facility.  There is no risk to the food chain.

Pigs can be infected by human, pig and bird flu viruses, and multiple infections can result in viruses trading genes and producing new viruses that can infect more species.  So it’s not too surprising that H1N1can infect people, pigs and now birds as well.  This incident serves as an important reminder that we need to remain diligent about infection control and hygiene, even around animals.  It’s highly unlikely that these turkeys had contact with infected pigs – most likely the virus was spread to this flock by a person.  Poultry producers may therefore need to consider getting vaccinated for H1N1 flu not only to protect themselves, but also their flocks, and anyone who may have the flu should definitely stay off these farms.  Hopefully the virus does not become established in wild bird populations (like H5N1 has in some areas), as this would make it much harder to control.

Recommendations for avoiding the flu (H1N1 or other) remain the same:

  • Wash your hands and/or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Sneeze into your elbow
  • Disinfect commonly touched surfaces
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Get vaccinated!