Bird flu risks: Are petting zoos, goat yoga and farms safe activities?

Opinion: This is absolutely Re-Donkey-ulous. Goat Yoga, petting animals? Like animals are bad viruses are everywhere, live in fear. This is as big a fake news and fear porn as you can get from propagandist media.

RELATED: Infectious disease physicians issue bird flu guidance for Canada.
Summer is nearly here, and with it comes farm visits, petting zoos and even goat yoga in the park. But with bird flu cases on the rise, Canadians may be left wondering: is it safe to get close to goats, chickens and cows?The H5N1 avian influenza strain is a zoonotic disease that can jump from animals to humans. This raises concerns about how these summer farm activities might impact public health.While bird flu has infected more than 90 dairy herds in the United States, causing three human cases since March, Canada has so far been spared. Here, the virus has been detected in birds and some mammals, like seals and foxes, but so far, cattle, goats and humans haven’t been affected.

But that does not mean we should let our guard down, warned Shayan Sharif, a professor and associate dean with the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.

“I’m not going to say we should avoid going to petting zoos or zoos in general, but I would say try to minimize exposure in any shape or form that you can,” he told Global News.

“The reality is that this virus has spilled over to many different species of birds and mammals. Over 350 different species of birds have been infected, close to 60 different mammalian species have been infected, and around 13 or 14 marine mammals have been infected. So this virus has proven us wrong many times.”

Click to play video: 'Canada is testing retail milk for bird flu'

Canada is testing retail milk for bird flu

While the virus hasn’t spread to cows, humans or goats in Canada, Sharif believes it would be imprudent to assume it’s incapable of doing so.

Despite Canada’s low bird flu risk, the spread intensifying south of the border has prompted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to ramp up surveillance efforts. This includes testing of milk in grocery stores and mandatory negative tests for lactating dairy cattle imported from the U.S.

Data compiled by the CFIA, shows there are 3,137 confirmed and suspected cases of bird flu in animals overall in Canada as of Friday — the most recent case came June 11, found in a deceased red fox in Prince Edward Island.


Goats, cattle and chicken. What’s the status?

Since chickens, goats and cattle are susceptible to bird flu, which can spread through close contact, Sharif advised caution when interacting with these animals.

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When it comes to poultry, he said bird flu manifests quickly. This means that if a chicken at a petting zoo contracts avian flu, it will likely display symptoms like lethargy immediately.

“Chickens are highly susceptible. So usually before we know it, they show clinical signs, and they succumb to disease,” he said. “So most likely, if there is a chicken at a petting zoo, I would say the chicken is probably not positive, but if the chicken is not looking good and is looking very ill and sick, then I would be very cautious about exposure.”

Click to play video: 'WHO says Bird flu risk to humans an ‘enormous concern,’ but what should you know?'

WHO says Bird flu risk to humans an ‘enormous concern,’ but what should you know?

Sharif emphasized that activities like goat yoga or petting cows at a farm can carry a risk, as these ruminant animals can carry the virus without showing symptoms, and potentially shed it through their milk or even mucosal secretions.

“Goats and cattle can actually carry the virus without showing clinical signs, so they can remain asymptomatic,” he said.


How to stay safe

Summer activities like petting zoos, farm visits and even goat yoga may increase your exposure to animals. However, Sharif emphasized that the risk of bird flu transmission to humans remains relatively low.

“It’s still OK to go ahead at the moment,” he said, emphasizing the importance of practising proper hygiene, especially when children, pregnant individuals or those who are immunocompromised are involved.

The warning is not just because of the avian flu.

He points out that cattle and chickens can carry various microbes without showing any signs of illness. These microbes can still be quite pathogenic and potentially lead to illness, sometimes even severe, in humans.

Click to play video: 'Avian Flu spreads to cows, raising concerns about cross-species transmission'

Avian Flu spreads to cows, raising concerns about cross-species transmission

“So personally, I wouldn’t recommend petting animals, but that’s just me,” he said.

But if you do, he said to make sure you properly sanitize your hands.

Toronto Public Health echoes this concern. Because animals can sometimes carry germs that cause illness, such as E. coli, and salmonella, petting zoos can pose a risk to certain groups. It advises that people with weakened immune systems, pregnant people and infants under one avoid contact with animals.


And young children, prone to touching their faces, should also avoid contact with reptiles, amphibians, birds and young livestock, it stated.

The situation with bird flu could also change, Sharif warned. While it hasn’t been found in Canadian cattle or goats, if that happens, he emphasized minimizing exposure and potentially using personal protective equipment (PPE) — lessons we should have learned from COVID-19.

“This virus has proven to be quite unpredictable in terms of how it jumps from one species to another species. So we really want to minimize that exposure,” he said.

What do you think?

Written by Colin

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