Canada

Q&A with the CFIA

A federal inspector who contracted swine flu while investigating an outbreak on an Alberta pig farm flew on a commercial flight shortly after being infected. The inspector with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency travelled to the federal virology lab in Winnipeg to personally deliver samples of the H1N1 virus from the quarantined barn.

A federal inspector who contracted swine flu while investigating an outbreak on an Alberta pig farm flew on two commercial flights shortly after being infected. The inspector with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency travelled to the federal virology lab in Winnipeg to personally deliver samples of the H1N1 virus from the quarantined barn.

The CBC's Krista Erickson posed questions by email to CFIA media relations officer Jenn Gearey on the topic. The following is a transcript of the discussion.


CBC: What day was the flight, what time, what was the departure point and what airline?

CFIA: The flight left Calgary on the 29th. [April]

CBC: How do you reconcile your statement that the worker showed no signs of symptoms at the time of flight with the Alberta Health Services report which indicates the workers showed symptoms early on, starting on April 29th, the day after they entered the barn?

CFIA: Our information and the Alberta Health Services report are consistent. The employee was not exhibiting signs of flu at the time of the flight. 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.

On the 30th, a day after flying, the individual developed a cough and was advised to seek medical attention. Symptoms were mild and the individual quickly recovered.

CBC: The Alberta health services report says on April 28, the day they entered the barn, they left the barn at 10 p.m. MT. That means if they were showing no symptoms at the time of the flight, they must have travelled that day after leaving the barn at 10 p.m.  They would have to drive to the nearest airport a few hours by car and fly commercial in the early morning hours. A cursory check of commercial flight schedules reveals there are no flights from Alberta to Winnipeg at that time. The latest flights from Calgary leave at 7:20 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. on both major airlines. 

The latest flights from Edmonton leave at 5:05 p.m. and 6:20 p.m.  So how is this possible?

CFIA: The individual flew on the 29th. The employee was not exhibiting signs of flu at the time of the flight. The individual did experience a slight 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: Were the vials decontaminated by anyone before they were put in the cooler for transportation?  For instance, were they sprayed down with alcohol, a basic decontamination procedure?

CFIA: 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 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.

CBC: Was the cooler properly labelled and did it have the requisite documentation accompanying under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act?

CFIA: The CFIA determined that these samples posed a low-risk because the samples were to confirm the absence of animal disease. The samples were determined to be an exempt animal specimen under the International Air Transport Association guidelines. This means that they did not fall under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act.

CBC: Was the airline informed of the contents?

CFIA: Given the designation of the package as an exempt animal specimen, this was not required.

CBC: The Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act requires that records of the shipment are to be maintained for a year. Where are those records now stored, with whom were they shared and can we get a copies?

CFIA: Given the designation of the package as an exempt animal specimen, this was not required.

CBC: The union says an investigation of the incident is required by law. Was an investigation done, when and by whom? What was the disposition of that investigation? What paperwork was generated from that investigation and can we have copies?

CFIA: Yes, this 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.

CBC: CFIA told us on July 21 that the Canada Public Health Agency was aware of the situation. Who informed the Agency, when and how was in informed?  Was it in writing?  Can we have copies of correspondence?

CFIA: The CFIA took immediate steps to inform all levels of public health. These exchanges of information involved confidential personal details and are therefore not being released.