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Hundreds of dead gulls found as ‘unprecedented’ avian flu outbreak continues in Nova Scotia



Dr. Ted Leighton visited Bear Island near Digby, N.S., in mid-August, and knew something was amiss when he spotted a couple of seagulls acting oddly.

“They were behaving in a way that suggested some sort of neurological disorder,” said Leighton, a retired veterinary pathologist and wildlife health researcher.

He noticed something else, too.

“I could see that there was an awful lot of scavenging going on. You could see a gull or two picking away at something dead on the beach, repeated again and again and again down the straight shoreline, as I could see it. So I thought there must be some substantial mortality going on.”


Leighton, an internationally renowned scholar in wildlife disease, didn’t have a chance to investigate further that day, but when he returned to Bear Island on Sept. 3, his suspicions were confirmed.

“There were skeletal remains all over the place,” he said. “Often it was just wings and breastbone, no flesh at all, sometimes feathers.”

Dr. Ted Leighton is a retired veterinary pathologist who discovered the gull die-off on Bear Island, N.S. (Submitted by Dr. Ted Leighton)

Leighton said it’s impossible to know how many seagulls died on the island recently because the tides wash carcasses into the Annapolis Basin twice a day, but he said the number is definitely in the hundreds.

Leighton believes highly pathogenic avian influenza is to blame for the die-off.

“It’s very unlikely that it’s anything else, but of course one has to do the expensive work of testing for the virus to be sure.”

Bear Island is accessible by foot at low tide and is the occasional destination of hikers and climbers. The Town of Digby recently asked people to stay off the island.

An unprecedented year

Leighton collected some specimens from the island, which will be sent to the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) for testing. The cooperative, which Leighton co-founded and then headed for many years, provides disease surveillance and tracking of mortality events in wildlife across Canada.

Dr. Megan Jones, the Atlantic regional director of the CWHC and an assistant professor in the department of pathology and microbiology at the Atlantic Veterinary College, said it’s been an unprecedented year for avian influenza in the Atlantic provinces and across the continent.

She said normally, in the first six months of a year, the Atlantic office of the cooperative does about 300 diagnostic tests on wildlife, but this year, staff did 1,400 tests in that period. The organization has faced such high demand that it now has to prioritize certain cases because it’s already spent its entire diagnostic budget for the year.

Some feathers and bones lie on a rocky beach.
Most of the dead seagulls had already been scavenged by the time Leighton found them. (Submitted by Dr. Ted Leighton)

From January to March, about nine per cent of the tests came back positive for the highly pathogenic avian influenza, and between April and June, that number had risen to about 20 per cent.

“It’s a challenge because there’s really not much we can do,” Jones said. “They’re going to congregate, there’s no social distancing, so there’s not much we can really do about it besides track it and try to minimize transmission.”

Glen Parsons, the manager of the sustainable wildlife use program at Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, said the province has received reports of dead birds in every county, and has seen cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza from Yarmouth to Sydney.

Parsons said the virus is transmitted through direct contact, including through feces and liquids, so people are advised not to touch or approach sick or dead birds and to refrain from feeding birds.

Anyone in Nova Scotia who finds a sick or dead bird or animal should call Natural Resources at 1-800-565-2224.

Tracking H5N1

North America’s outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza, a strain of H5N1, began in Newfoundland last December with the discovery of the virus at an exhibition farm. After that, a case cropped up in a Canada goose in Nova Scotia, and then in other birds in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. In the intervening months, the virus has spread throughout the continent after sweeping across Europe last year.

It has caused significant mortalities in wild bird populations, and has been found in foxes in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island as well as harbour seals in Quebec. In other parts of Canada and the U.S., it has been found in skunks, raccoons and bobcats, Jones said.

The bones of a seagull lie on some rocks.
When a seagull dies, other seagulls pick at and eat the carcass, spreading avian influenza. (Submitted by Dr. Ted Leighton)

This particular strain of H5N1 has not caused significant disease in humans, but public health officials closely track any cases, as transmission of the virus to humans could cause a global outbreak.

The CWHC sends samples of all positive cases in wildlife to the National Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases lab in Winnipeg that does genetic sequencing of the virus to try to catch any mutations that may make it more likely to infect people.

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Gendered gap puts Calgary woman at increased heart disease risk: new report – Calgary Herald



Research into heart disease has often evaded complexities of menstrual cycles and pregnancy, a new report says


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Christina Stuwe’s triple-bypass, open-heart surgery in 2018 was a life-saving procedure for the Calgary mother.

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But the need for the surgery nearly went undetected by health professionals, as tests for her irregular heartbeat came back inconclusive and she was told to come back in a year.

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It was only after Stuwe and her husband pushed for further testing, including an angiogram, that they discovered multiple blocked arteries in her heart — and the fact she unknowingly had a heart attack three years earlier.

“The way my heart was reacting really put everyone off, and they couldn’t really explain it,” Stuwe said.

“Once something was identified with my heart, it was like it was being put off even though we obviously knew something was wrong . . . If I had waited a year, who knows, I might have had another heart attack and been gone.”

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Stuwe’s experience highlights a Canadian health system that sometimes struggles to provide adequate care to women with cardiovascular disease.

Gendered gaps in medical diagnosis and care, as well as research and awareness, put women at heightened risk from both heart and brain disease, according to a report from the Heart and Stroke Foundation released Wednesday.

That report says women face different risk factors than men for heart disease due to biological differences, but that health systems historically have fallen short in considering those differences. The inequities worsen when factoring in groups including women of colour, women with low socioeconomic status and women living in rural or remote areas.

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Research has often evaded complexities of menstrual cycles, pregnancy

Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death in Canadian women, said Dr. Kara Nerenberg, a clinician-scientist at the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine whose work focuses on preventing heart disease and stroke in younger women.

She said in the past, much cardiovascular research specific to women has been excluded by researchers to avoid dealing with the complexities of menstrual cycles or pregnancies in their studies.

That means some treatments developed to treat heart disease that work well in men don’t work for women, Nerenberg said.

“That’s potentially because of a different biology, the hormonal changes and how it affects drug metabolism, or even just the dosing of medications,” Nerenberg said, adding women are underdiagnosed when it comes to heart disease.

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“We know that even in Alberta, women receive fewer cardiac tests and fewer cardiac medications.”

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Women can experience different symptoms than men

Some conditions of pregnancy can increase risk of cardiovascular disease, Nerenberg said, underlining a need for better and more regular screenings for women.

She said health-care providers, as well as women, should be aware of different ways that heart disease presents itself between men and women.

“We do know that a lot of women will have the same symptoms of men of heart disease — chest pain, shortness of breath. But women also commonly experience different symptoms, like fatigue or different types of pain, and they may not describe it the same way as men,” she said.

“As a society as a whole, we need to put more attention to signs in our own bodies, and that’s male or female. I think too many times, we put things off because life is busy, but we have to pay attention to ourselves,” Stuwe said.

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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Ultra-Processed Foods May Be Linked to Increased Risk of Cancer



Summary: High consumption of ultra-processed foods, including soda, chips, and some white bread products, was associated with an increased risk of developing and dying from certain kinds of cancer, including brain cancer.

Source: Imperial College London

Higher consumption of ultra-processed foods may be linked to an increased risk of developing and dying from cancer, an Imperial College London-led observational study suggests.

Researchers from Imperial’s School of Public Health have produced the most comprehensive assessment to date of the association between ultra-processed foods and the risk of developing cancers.


Ultra-processed foods are food items which have been heavily processed during their production, such as fizzy drinks, mass-produced packaged breads, many ready meals and most breakfast cereals.

Ultra-processed foods are often relatively cheap, convenient, and heavily marketed, often as healthy options. But these foods are also generally higher in salt, fat, sugar, and contain artificial additives. It is now well documented that they are linked with a range of poor health outcomes including obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The first UK study of its kind used UK Biobank records to collect information on the diets of 200,000 middle-aged adult participants. Researchers monitored participants’ health over a 10-year period, looking at the risk of developing any cancer overall as well as the specific risk of developing 34 types of cancer. They also looked at the risk of people dying from cancer.

The study found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a greater risk of developing cancer overall, and specifically with ovarian and brain cancers. It was also associated with an increased risk of dying from cancer, most notably with ovarian and breast cancers.

For every 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food in a person’s diet, there was an increased incidence of 2 percent for cancer overall, and a 19 percent increase for ovarian cancer specifically.

Each 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food consumption was also associated with increased mortality for cancer overall by 6 percent, alongside a 16 percent increase for breast cancer and a 30 percent increase for ovarian cancer.

These links remained after adjusting for a range of socio-economic, behavioral and dietary factors, such as smoking status, physical activity and body mass index (BMI).

The Imperial team carried out the study, which is published in eClinicalMedicine, in collaboration with researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), University of São Paulo, and NOVA University Lisbon.

Previous research from the team reported the levels of consumption of ultra-processed foods in the UK, which are the highest in Europe for both adults and children. The team also found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a greater risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes in UK adults, and a greater weight gain in UK children extending from childhood to young adulthood.

Dr. Eszter Vamos, lead senior author for the study, from Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, said, “This study adds to the growing evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to negatively impact our health including our risk for cancer. Given the high levels of consumption in UK adults and children, this has important implications for future health outcomes.

“Although our study cannot prove causation, other available evidence shows that reducing ultra-processed foods in our diet could provide important health benefits. Further research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the best public health strategies to reduce the widespread presence and harms of ultra-processed foods in our diet.”

Dr. Kiara Chang, first author for the study, from Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, said, “The average person in the UK consumes more than half of their daily energy intake from ultra-processed foods.

“This is exceptionally high and concerning as ultra-processed foods are produced with industrially derived ingredients and often use food additives to adjust color, flavor, consistency, texture, or extend shelf life.

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The study found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a greater risk of developing cancer overall, and specifically with ovarian and brain cancers. Image is in the public domain

“Our bodies may not react the same way to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives as they do to fresh and nutritious minimally processed foods. However, ultra-processed foods are everywhere and highly marketed with cheap price and attractive packaging to promote consumption. This shows our food environment needs urgent reform to protect the population from ultra-processed foods.”

The World Health Organization and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has previously recommended restricting ultra-processed foods as part of a healthy sustainable diet.

There are ongoing efforts to reduce ultra-processed food consumption around the world, with countries such as Brazil, France and Canada updating their national dietary guidelines with recommendations to limit such foods. Brazil has also banned the marketing of ultra-processed foods in schools. There are currently no similar measures to tackle ultra-processed foods in the UK.

Dr. Chang added, “We need clear front of pack warning labels for ultra-processed foods to aid consumer choices, and our sugar tax should be extended to cover ultra-processed fizzy drinks, fruit-based and milk-based drinks, as well as other ultra-processed products.

“Lower income households are particularly vulnerable to these cheap and unhealthy ultra-processed foods. Minimally processed and freshly prepared meals should be subsidized to ensure everyone has access to healthy, nutritious and affordable options.”

The researchers note that their study is observational, so does not show a causal link between ultra-processed foods and cancer due to the observational nature of the research. More work is needed in this area to establish a causal link.

About this diet and brain cancer research news

Author: Press Office
Source: Imperial College London
Contact: Press Office – Imperial College London
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: The findings will appear in eClinicalMedicine


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ER closure for Seaforth’s emergency department due to COVID-19 outbreak



Starting on Feb. 1, Seaforth’s emergency department will be closed in the overnight hours.

The Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance said due to “sudden health human resource shortages related to COVID-19,” the Seaforth Community Hospital’s emergency department will be closed from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., from Feb. 1st to Feb. 6, when regular hours are expected to resume.

On Jan. 28, a COVID-19 outbreak was declared in Seaforth’s inpatient unit, closing all admissions to the unit. On Tuesday, a COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the Clinton General Hospital’s inpatient unit, also closing it to admissions.

In total, 10 people are in Huron-Perth hospitals dealing with COVID-19.


Two long-term care homes in the region are also dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks at the moment. Since Jan. 1, eight Huron-Perth residents, most of them over the age of 75, have died due to COVID-19, according to the Huron Perth Health Unit.

“I extend my condolences to the loved ones of these individuals,” said Dr. Miriam Klassen, medical officer of health for the Huron Perth Health Unit.

She added, “COVID-19 remains a serious illness for some people, especially those who are older. While we are seeing signs of improvement, it is important to keep taking actions to protect those who are most vulnerable to severe outcomes from this virus.”


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