Insect and Animal Diseases

Enjoying the outdoors can help you stay fit and healthy, but it can also make you sick. Take steps to protect yourself and your family from these outdoor health concerns:


Avian flu

H5N1 is a subtype of influenza that is known to affect wild and domestic birds. The risk to humans, however, is very low.

For individuals who may have been exposed to this virus through their work involving direct contact with infected birds – such as poultry farmers, veterinarians, and lab workers – the risk of serious illness is low.

Person-to-person transmission of avian influenza viruses is rare.

The risk to the public of catching the H5N1 virus from domestic poultry or products is very low and there is no need to change food consumption habits or travel plans. More information on consuming poultry and eggs can be found under the Food Safety section on the Public Health Agency of Canada website.

Symptoms 

Symptoms of avian influenza are similar to symptoms of seasonal influenza:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Sore throat
  • Red/watery eyes
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Muscle Aches 
Exposure and testing 

What if an individual has been exposed to avian influenza?

  • People who have had contact with birds that are infected with avian influenza are identified and monitored by the local public health unit for seven days after their last exposure to ensure that they do not become sick. Influenza antiviral medication may be recommended by your primary care provider to help prevent infection, particularly when there has been a lot of contact with infected birds or their environment, without adequate personal protective equipment.

Who can be tested for avian influenza?

  • In Ontario, people who are symptomatic and have had exposure to an infected bird or premise can be tested. Please contact your primary care provider.

Is there a vaccine for humans against avian influenza?

  • Vaccination for seasonal influenza is recommended. There is no vaccine for H5N1 indicated for use in Canada at this time.

How is the spread of avian influenza being prevented?

  • When infected domestic flocks are identified, the birds are humanely euthanized and only essential workers are allowed to enter the barn or area where the birds live, with appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • Affected poultry farms are quarantined, which means that movement in and out of the farms is controlled to prevent the virus from spreading.
  • Birds on quarantined farms are also monitored for illness by The Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Poultry consumption 

Can I get avian influenza from eating poultry or eggs?

  • There is no risk of catching avian influenza from fully cooked eggs or meat. Because of early detection and control of birds infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza, the chance of infected birds entering the food chain is very low.
  • Properly handled, prepared and cooked poultry (e.g. chicken, turkey, duck) does not pose a risk for avian influenza infection.
  • Always store poultry products and eggs according to directions on the package.
  • Do not rinse poultry products before cooking them, as this can spread pathogens that may be found on the raw product.
  • Be sure to wash cutting boards and utensils thoroughly and avoid their contact with other foods until they are cleaned and dry.
  • Anytime you handle raw poultry or egg products, you should wash your hands for 20 seconds in warm running water with soap.
  • Eggs should be cooked thoroughly prior to consumption.
  • Below are the recommended minimum internal cooking temperatures that must be reached to ensure that the product is safe to eat. Use a food thermometer to ensure food has reached the proper temperature.
Poultry productInternal cooking temperature
Whole poultry, drumsticks, thighs, and wings 82°C (180°F)
Poultry breasts 74°C (165°F)
Ground poultry 74°C (165°F)

Additional information on food safety:

Get the safe food facts - Ministry of Health

Food Safety - Public Health Ontario

What if I hunt and cook wild birds such as wild geese and ducks?

Although the risk of catching avian flu from wild birds is very low, hunters and people who prepare and cook wild birds may be at a higher risk. It is important for people who hunt and eat wild birds to take precautions to help reduce any risk:

  • Do not handle or eat sick birds or birds that have died from unknown causes.
  • Cook game meat thoroughly, to an internal temperature of approximately 71ºC (160ºF).
  • Avoid direct contact with blood, feces, and respiratory secretions of all wild birds and immediately remove and wash clothing that may be contaminated.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke when cleaning wild game birds.
  • Wear dish gloves or latex gloves when handling or cleaning game.
  • Wash gloves, hands, and clothing with soap and warm water immediately after you have finished.
  • Thoroughly clean contaminated tools and work surfaces with hot, soapy water and then disinfect the area using a household disinfectant.
  • Keep young children away when cleaning game birds and discourage them from playing in areas that could be contaminated with wild bird droppings.
  • If you become ill while handling birds or shortly thereafter, see your doctor. Inform your doctor that you have been in contact with wild birds.
Reporting of sick or dead wild bird 
  • Do not approach or handle live, sick or dead wild birds.
  • Public Health does not pick up or collect dead birds.
  • If you observe sick or dead wild birds, report to The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative or call the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at 1-866-673-4781.
  • If the dead bird(s) is not being collected by authorities, then avoid handling the bird altogether, or dispose of the bird in the following manner:
    • Use an implement such as a small shovel or large tongs, or by hand only if disposable plastic or rubber gloves are worn. Alternatively, the dead bird(s) may be placed in a puncture-resistant leak-proof plastic bag of appropriate size by inverting the bag over the hand, then grasping the carcass through the bag, and wrapping the bag around the bird without touching it.
    • Bury the dead bird(s) several feet deep where they will not be disturbed.
    • Alternatively, the dead bird(s) may be double-bagged and placed in garbage.
      • Note that some regions do not allow dead birds to be placed in the garbage. If you are unsure, contact your local municipality.
  • Always dispose of dead bird(s) in a manner such that no one could handle it again.
  • People handling birds (live or dead) should wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately afterward. 
Resources 

Avian Influenza Questions and Answers - Ministry of Health

Avian Influenza - Canadian Food Inspection Agency of Canada

Avian Influenza - Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

Avian Influenza Virus - The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative

Detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) in Canada 2021-2022 - Canadian Food Inspection Agency of Canada

Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza Frequently Asked Questions – Ministry of Health

Influenza (Avian and other zoonotic) - World Health Organization

Information on Bird Flu - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Wild birds and avian influenza – Handling guidelines - Public Health Agency of Canada

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria carried by blacklegged ticks; however, not all blacklegged ticks are infected. The disease spreads when an infected tick bites a person.

Tick Information Card

Areas of risk

Blacklegged ticks are not commonly found in Waterloo Region and the risk of encountering a tick in this area is low. Blacklegged ticks spread to new areas of the province because of climate change and warmer winter temperatures. They can also spread by travelling on birds and deer.

Blacklegged ticks are typically found:

  • Along the northern shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River
  • Southwestern Ontario (Pinery Provincial Park)
  • Northwestern Ontario (Rainy River)
  • Urban-suburban parks (Rouge Valley)

For more information check the Ontario Lyme Disease Risk Areas Map 2022.

Blacklegged ticks are most active during the spring and summer months. Ticks cannot fly or jump so they wait on low vegetation and attach themselves to people or animals as they pass by. Ticks can also spread by travelling on birds and deer. This means a blacklegged tick could be found anywhere in Ontario.

Protecting yourself

Ticks are tiny. Before they feed they are the size of a sesame seed (3-5 millimetres). There are things you can do to protect yourself from a tick bite:

  • Wear light-coloured clothing so it is easier to see ticks on your body
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Tuck your pants into your socks
  • Stay on the trail if you're hiking in a forested or grassy area
  • Wear an insect repellent containing DEET or Icaridin. Always read the label for directions on how to use it

After an outdoor activity, you can:

  • Put your clothes into a dryer on high heat for at least 60 minutes to kill any possible ticks, follow fabric care guidelines
  • Check yourself and children for ticks. Take a shower as soon as you can to wash off a tick that may not be attached through a bite
  • Regularly check pets that spend time outdoors. Ticks may attach to them and be carried indoors, putting you and your family at risk of being bitten.
Removing a tick
If you find a tick on your body, remove it immediately. Infected ticks need to be attached for at least 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease. 

To remove a tick you should:

  • Use fine-pointed tweezers to grab the tick's head and mouth as close to your skin as possible
  • Pull slowly
  • Do not twist or rotate and try not to damage it
  • Place the tick in a small sealed bag or a container with a lid
  • Thoroughly wash the area where you were bitten with soap and water
Testing a tick

The National Microbiology Lab is no longer testing blacklegged ticks for Lyme bacteria. As a result, Region of Waterloo Public Health will no longer be accepting ticks for submission.

The purpose of tick identification and testing is to gather data and monitor for new and emerging tick populations in Ontario. Tick submissions are for surveillance purposes only and not intended for diagnosis of Lyme disease.

When you find a tick attached to yourself or a family member, use the website eTick.ca to identify the tick. eTick is a public platform for image-based tick identification. There is no cost to use this platform and the website is best viewed with Chrome, Safari, or Firefox. You will receive identification results within 48 hours along with public health education and awareness messaging.

If through eTick, the tick has been identified as a blacklegged (Ixodes scapularis) tick or cannot be identified, please contact your health care provider, particularly if you are feeling unwell. Speak to your health care provider about what next steps to take, if any, for your health. Tell your doctor where you were when you got the tick bite to help them assess your risk of Lyme disease. The risk of infection is low if a tick was attached to your skin for less than 24 hours.

Please speak to your veterinarian if you find a tick on your pet. 

Symptoms

Lyme disease is diagnosed through a combination of symptom presentation, history of exposure to infected ticks and/or validated laboratory test results.

If you have been bitten by a tick and believe you have symptoms of Lyme disease it is important to see your doctor for medical advice. Tell them where you were when you got the tick bite to help them assess your risk of Lyme disease. The risk of infection is low if a tick was attached to your skin for less than 24 hours.

Symptoms usually appear from three days to one month after being bitten by an infectious tick. Signs of infection may include:

  • A circular rash referred to as a "bull's eye" rash
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fatigue

If you develop any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention. If left untreated, more severe symptoms can develop.

Rabies

Rabies is a potentially fatal viral disease that attacks the nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including humans.

A bite from an infected animal is the most common way rabies is spread. It can also spread when infected saliva comes into contact with a scratch, open wound or your mouth, nose or eyes.

Animal bites
Visit the Animal Bites page for information on preventing animal bites and scratches.
Vaccinate your pet
All cats and dogs over the age of three months must be vaccinated against rabies. It is the law. Pet owners whose animals are not vaccinated can be fined.
Symptoms

Symptoms of rabies in animals may include:

  • A change in behaviour
    • More quiet or depressed
    • Unusually friendly when normally timid
    • More aggressive toward people, animals, objects, or even its own body
  • Loss of appetite, or difficulty eating or drinking
  • Barking or meowing differently
  • Excessive drool
  • Biting the site of the wound where it was exposed to rabies
  • Overreacting to touch, sound or light
  • Staggering or falling
  • Becoming partially or completely unable to move

West Nile virus

West Nile virus is carried by mosquitos and can cause serious illness. The virus spreads when a mosquito feeds on an infected bird and then bites a person.

Prevent Exposure to West Nile Virus - Video

Monitoring West Nile virus

Public Health tracks West Nile virus activity in Waterloo Region by:

  • Monitoring the presence of the virus in mosquitos and people
  • Identifying and mapping mosquito breeding grounds
  • Controlling mosquito populations by removing places where mosquitos breed
Protecting yourself

Reduce standing water outside your home by:

  • Storing items such as wheelbarrows upside down
  • Changing bird bath water twice a week
  • Covering rain barrels with a fine mesh screen
  • Clearing eaves troughs and down spouts of leaves and twigs

Use screens to keep mosquitos outside by:

  • Fixing holes in window screens
  • Making sure screen fits snugly
  • Keeping windows/doors without screens closed

Protect yourself by:

  • Wearing light-coloured clothing
  • Wearing long sleeves and pants and a hat
  • Wearing socks and closed-toe shoes
  • Using insect repellent with DEET or Icaridin
Symptoms

Most people do not experience any symptoms. For those who do become ill, symptoms can occur three to 15 days following the bite of an infected mosquito.

Symptoms may include:

  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Stiff neck
  • Swollen glands
  • Skin rash
  • In rare cases, more severe symptoms can develop

If you develop these symptoms it is important to seek medical attention.

Additional resources

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