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Albertan dies from avian flu, health officials confirm
Julia Parrish, CTV Edmonton
Published Wednesday, January 8, 2014 2:44PM MST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 8, 2014 6:45PM MST
Officials with the federal government and the provincial government said Wednesday that one Alberta resident had become the first case of avian flu in North America – and had died from the illness last week.
Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose, along with officials from Health Canada and Alberta Health confirmed the news in a press conference Wednesday afternoon – saying North America’s first human case of H5N1, or Avian Flu, and the first death from the illness, had been confirmed.
Officials said the person had travelled to China in December, returning December 27, according to health officials the person was showing symptoms while travelling back into Canada from Beijing, the person flew to Vancouver, and then into the Edmonton International Airport.
“The person was on a flight from Beijing to Vancouver, spent a few hours in the Vancouver airport then went to Edmonton,” Dr. Gregory Taylor, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer said.
Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne said in a statement that the individual was hospitalized January 1, and died on January 3.
On January 5, officials said the Public Health office was notified, and on Tuesday night, lab results confirmed the case of H5N1.
Health officials said this particular strain of influenza is not easily spread – and there were no signs that the illness had spread from person to person, to the other individuals who were on the planes with the patient, or to the patient’s family or friends.
“The patient’s family does not show any signs of H5N1, there is no sign it was passed on the plane,” Dr. Taylor said.
Family and friends of the deceased were offered Tamiflu as a precaution, officials said – although the risk of the illness spreading between humans is very low.
On the World Health Organization website, the illness is called ‘highly infectious’ in birds, and while, “human cases of H5N1 avian influenza occur occasionally…it is difficult to transmit the infection from person to person.”
WHO also said nearly all cases of avian flu in humans came after the patients came into contact with infected live or dead birds, or H5N1-contaminated environments, but spreading from person to person was unusual, and there was no evidence the virus could spread to humans through food if it was properly and thoroughly cooked.
“The risk of getting H5N1 is very low, this is not the regular flu,” Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose said.
The federal government said officials had notified China, and other international health agencies about the development.
Officials would not release details on the deceased, but said the individual was believed to be in good health before travelling to China.
Between 2003 and December, 2013, 384 human deaths worldwide had been connected to the avian flu – and over that same ten-year stretch, more than 648 cases were confirmed in 15 countries.
Colourized transmission electron micrograph of Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses (seen in gold) grown in MDCK cells (seen in green) are shown. (CDC / Cynthia Goldsmith)