Department of Health and NWT hunters prepare for avian flu

The territorial government issued a public service announcement earlier this week warning people of a highly pathogenic strain of avian flu. Experts said the risk to humans is low.

“These words [highly pathogenic] it always seems a bit scary,” said Dr. Naima Jutha, Territorial Wildlife Veterinarian and Chief Veterinarian. “But that actually refers to their potential to spread into domestic poultry.

Ducks, geese, gulls and other wild birds are natural carriers of bird flu. This particular strain – H5N1 – quickly spread to domestic birds on commercial farms in the United States and more southern parts of Canada. The outbreaks have resulted in the mass euthanasia of nearly two million chickens across the country.

“What we’re seeing this year in the South is a great early warning system for us here in the Northwest Territories,” Jutha said.

There are currently no confirmed cases of bird flu in the Northwest Territories, but Jutha said she expects that to change in the coming months as more birds migrate north. for summer.

And as goose hunting season begins in the territory, Jutha said people should take extra precautions – like wearing gloves and washing equipment after use – to make sure they stay safe. .

View of a street in Ulukhaktok. Seasoned hunters in Ulukhaktok have expressed concern over reports of bird flu. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

NWT hunters worried

For Jack Akhiatak, the spring hunt is an annual tradition. Akhiatak is an experienced hunter from Ulukhaktok, NWT

He is excited about the upcoming hunting season.

“The geese, the ducks, the birds – we always look forward to all the birds,” he said.

He said he started hearing about the virus in the news a few weeks ago, in reports of outbreaks in southern provinces.

“It kind of woke me up,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God. They’re coming this far. Because they’re coming this far.'”

Ducks, geese, gulls and other wild birds are natural carriers of bird flu. (Jonathan Collicott/CBC News)

Akhiatak said he would warn people about bird flu and take extra precautions to avoid unknowingly giving his family and friends a sick bird.

“When we hunt, we share everything,” he said. “And for all these young hunters these days, they bring all their catch to their grandparents or their great-grandparents.

“So it would be very scary to give someone food that’s not healthy for you.”

Another seasoned Ulukhaktok hunter, David Kuptana, said he was also concerned about the risk of handling birds that might have bird flu, especially for children learning to hunt.

“Is it safe enough for younger children to grasp [the birds] with their mittens or whatever? Because we don’t know what they’re carrying.”

Kuptana said he saw photos of sick birds circulating on social media and Facebook.

“There are geese [in pictures] who have frothy mouths,” he said. “Others just have worms in them, or some kind of bug. So that’s the big thing I’m a little worried about now for spring.”

Kuptana is prepared to follow protocols recommended by the Department of Health and report suspected cases of avian flu to the Northwest Territories Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR).

“I’ve already bought myself a box of rubber gloves in case we come across these kinds of birds,” he said. “Just in case we see something like this, and we have to put it in a bag and take it to the ENR.”

At this point, Jutha does not know whether or not the Northwest Territories will have the same high number of cases as other parts of the country.

“What will the big picture of what we experience here in the North look like compared to what is happening around Canada? she says.

“I don’t have a crystal ball on that. But we know these birds have migratory routes. We know they cross the territory.”