A case of a rare variant of Influenza A (H1N2)v has been confirmed in central Alberta.
The infectious respiratory disease is known to occur in swine herds across the world. It’s a very rare virus, with only 27 human cases reported globally since 2005 and it has never been reported in Canada before.
Alberta Health learned about the case in mid-October when a person was suffering from flu-like symptoms and went to the ER.
“This currently appears to be one isolated case,” Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Wednesday.
Because the patient went to an ER rather than an Alberta Health Services COVID-19 assessment site, the swab was tested for both the novel coronavirus and influenza. When a case of influenza is positive this early in the season, Hinshaw said further testing is performed to see whether it is seasonal.
“There was nothing about the presentation or history that indicated any different concern than anyone else presenting with an upper respiratory tract infection. Just simply because of the place they presented, the influenza test was done,” she said.
The patient had mild symptoms and recovered quickly.
While human-to-human transmission of this strain of influenza is incredibly rare — Hinshaw said there has never been a report of wide community spread across the world — AHS will be offering optional influenza testing to residents in parts of central Alberta if they come for COVID-19 testing at an AHS assessment centre.
As well, retroactive testing of any COVID-19 testing swab in parts of central Alberta is almost complete. According to Hinshaw, no new cases have been found as of Wednesday morning.
H1N2 is not food borne and cannot be transmitted to people through pork or other products that come from pigs. Alberta Health said there is no risk associated with eating pork.
A public health investigation has been launched to determine the source of this virus and to verify no spread occurred.
Alberta’s chief veterinarian Dr. Keith Lehman said the investigation has identified some “potential sources” and the investigation is ongoing.
Routine surveillance for swine influenza is conducted across Western Canada each year. In Alberta swine, Lehman said there are usually between 10 and 30 cases identified per quarter.
While the source for this case has not been identified, Lehman said the odds of transmission between farms are low.
“With the biosecurity practices in place on farms, that addresses the risks of moving it from one farm to another,” he said. “Those practices are really aimed at minimizing those things.”
Hinshaw said the case was not linked to any of Alberta’s slaughterhouses.
According to the province, some pigs who have the virus may not show any sign of illness, but symptoms can include fever, a barking cough, sneezing, breathing difficulties, eye redness or inflammation and a loss of appetite.
If those symptoms are present in a herd, the province recommends calling a veterinarian immediately and avoiding contact with any sick animals.
This type of virus does not usually spread to humans, but can happen following direct or indirect exposure to pigs.