Canada confirms fatal case of H5N1 avian flu in Alberta: first in North America

Thursday, January 9, 2014
By Paul Martin
January 9, 2014

CANADA – Health officials say a Canadian has died of H5N1, also known as the avian flu, in the first-known case in North America. Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced on Wednesday that a Canadian who recently returned from a trip to Beijing died in an Alberta hospital earlier this month. On Tuesday, the cause was confirmed to be avian flu. “The health system did everything it could for this individual, and our thoughts are with the family at this time,” Ambrose told a press conference. The World Health Organization considers H5N1 to be a highly infectious, severe respiratory disease in birds which is rarely transmitted to humans. The mortality rate, however, is high. About 60 per cent of those who contract the avian flu ultimately die from the disease. To date, there have been 648 cases of H5N1 in humans from 15 different countries. Of those, 384 have been fatal. Last year, there were 38 confirmed cases of H5N1 and 24 deaths. Until now, there have been no confirmed cases in North America. Several cases have recently been reported in China and other Asian nations, although not specifically near Beijing. Officials confirmed that the deceased returned from a flight from Beijing showing symptoms. The person was treated in hospital and passed away on Jan. 3. The cause of death was confirmed by the National Microbiology Laboratory on Tuesday. There has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission, and doctors say the victim’s family is showing no signs of illness. Officials believe this is a standalone case. “This is a very rare and isolated case.

Avian influenza is not easily transmitted from person to person. It is not the same virus that is currently present in seasonal influenza in Alberta,” said Dr. James Talbot, chief medical officer of health for Alberta Health. “Public health has followed up with all close contacts of this individual and offered Tamiflu as a precaution. None of them have symptoms and the risk of developing symptoms is extremely low. Precautions for health care staff were also taken as part of this individual’s hospital treatment. “I expect that with the rarity of transmission and the additional precautions taken, there will be no more cases in Alberta.” Health officials say the chances of human-to-human transmission are extremely low. Still, they plan on contacting those who were on the same airplane as the deceased to offer assurances. The deceased was on a flight from Beijing to Edmonton on Dec. 27, with a brief stopover in Vancouver. Dr. Talbot told a news conference that H5N1 has never been transmitted between passengers onboard an airplane. Public officials would not confirm any information about the identity of the deceased as a point of confidentiality, beyond the fact that he or she was Albertan and died in a hospital somewhere in the province. It is unclear how the deceased contracted H5N1; it is not believed that they visited any bird farms during their time in China. The Public Health Agency of Canada is not recommending any travel advisories, but do caution visitors to China to avoid high-risk areas such as poultry farms and animal markets. Visitors should also avoid contact with birds and ensure eggs and poultry they eat are well cooked. –Yahoo News

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