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BioDiaspora Founder: Travellers unlikely to bring H7N9 bird flu to Canada

Dr. Kamran Khan, founder of BioDiaspora and an infectious disease physician and scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital, is among the experts studying the emergence of the H7N9 bird flu outbreak in China.

Jennifer Yang interviewed Khan in today’s Toronto Star about the likelihood of the disease being easily transmitted from human to human or arriving in Canada, as SARS did in 2003.

Here’s an excerpt:

“This isn’t necessarily an event that poses a significant risk to Canada, at least based on all the current knowledge,” said Dr. Kamran Khan, an infectious disease specialist at St. Michael’s Hospital and founder of BioDiaspora, a program that predicts the potential spread of outbreaks. “Even if a case were to find its way into Canada, the likelihood of it spreading locally is quite low.”

BioDiaspora collects data on everything from air travel and weather to global distribution of disease-carrying insects and uses this data to forecast the potential spread of new diseases.

It has already performed a risk analysis of H7N9 for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which contacted Khan last Tuesday for help.

Khan said the risk of an infected person coming to Canada from China is statistically low right now.

“If we look at this from a global perspective, Canada receives about 1.5 per cent of the travel out of the (Shanghai) area at this time of year. So it’s pretty modest,” he said.

Over the next 90 days, roughly 40,000 people from China’s outbreak zone will fly to Canada, according to Khan’s analysis. About 16,000 of those people will land in Vancouver, which receives the highest volume of visitors from Shanghai and the surrounding provinces.

The second most popular Canadian destination is Toronto, which expected to receive some 14,000 air travellers in the next three months from Shanghai and the surrounding areas.

Considering the few confirmed cases thus far, these are not big numbers, said Khan. Even assuming there are more confirmed cases to come — and more that may never be detected — the final count probably won’t reach “hundreds of cases or even thousands.”

“We’re probably talking dozens of cases,” Khan said. “In which case, the risk of those individuals actually boarding a plane and coming to Canada is quite small.”

The full article is available on the Toronto Star‘s website.

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, marketing and communications manager.