Infected swine-flu inspector flew twice: CFIA
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency disclosed for the first time Thursday that one of its inspectors flew on two commercial flights one day after contracting swine flu at a quarantined Alberta pig farm.
The agency said the worker took an Air Canada Jazz flight from Calgary to Winnipeg on the morning of April 29 to deliver samples taken from the farm in a cooler to the federal virology lab, the agency said.
On Thursday, it was revealed for the first time that the worker took a second flight that afternoon to return to Calgary.
The CFIA had previously said the worker only flew to Winnipeg and that the flight details should only be released in the case of risk to the public.
On the night of April 28, the inspector and a colleague took samples on the central Alberta farm near Rocky Mountain House, about a three-hour drive from Edmonton.
On May 7, it was confirmed both inspectors had contracted the H1N1 influenza A virus that has been spreading around the world since first appearing in Mexico in March.
In a prepared statement on Thursday, the CFIA said its earlier statement that the worker wasn't showing any symptoms at the time of the flight is "consistent" with an Alberta Health Services report, obtained by CBC News. That report said the workers started feeling symptoms a day after their visit to the farm.
"The employee was not exhibiting signs of flu at the time of the flight," CFIA spokeswoman Jenn Gearey wrote in the agency's response.
"The individual did experience a sore throat on the day of the flight, which, as the Alberta report states, they attributed to the conditions of the working environment.
"Given ammonia and dust present in livestock barns, throat irritation is commonly experienced."
CBC News requested a follow-up interview to ask why the agency assumed a sore throat was considered innocuous given that the worker was in contact with a herd of sick pigs the day before, but the CFIA declined the request.
Airline not informed of samples
The CFIA reiterated that the samples brought on the plane "posed no risk" to those on board despite the agency's admission that the vials "were not decontaminated at the farm as per normal procedures."
"However, this oversight did not pose risks to passengers on the plane because these samples were wrapped with extra precaution," the CFIA's Gearey wrote.
"The vials were placed in boxes, which were secured in sealed sterile plastic bags. The bags were contained in a Styrofoam cooler, which was securely taped on all sides."
The cooler was not present in the passenger cabin, and the employee received it in good condition at the final destination, Gearey added.
The agency said it didn't break any rules by not informing the airline it was sending the samples in an unmarked cooler checked as baggage.
The CFIA said it was not required to inform the airline about the samples or provide documentation for them under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act because the samples posed a "low-risk" and were being transported to confirm the absence of animal disease.
The samples, Gearey wrote, were "determined to be an exempt animal specimen under International Air Transport Association guidelines."
"This means that they did not fall under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act," Gearey wrote.
The two workers wore protective gear during the April 28 inspection, but the CFIA has acknowledged they did not have the right equipment and had not received proper training.
The full-face respirators available to them had not been fitted properly, and also fogged up their masks, making work difficult inside the hot barn.
The two workers were not taught how to best put on or remove their coveralls, disposable shoe covers, double gloves or full-face respirator.
The agency insisted Thursday that the matter "has been reviewed and addressed internally."
"In addition, we have redoubled our efforts to ensure that all staff involved in disease investigations fully understand the procedures and policies in place to protect themselves, others and animals," Gearey wrote.