© THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, CDC - Cynthia Goldsmith, Jackie Katz, Sharif Zaki
A colourized transmission electron micrograph of Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses (seen in gold) grown in MDCK cells (seen in green) are shown in this 1997 image. Federal public health officials say a fatal case of H5N1 bird flu has been reported in Canada, the first such case in North America.
Federal public health officials say a fatal human case of H5N1 bird flu has been reported in Canada, the first such case in North America.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose says the case, which was located in Alberta, was an isolated one and that the risk to the general public is small.
“The risk of getting H5N1 is very low,” Ambrose told a hastily assembled news conference in Ottawa via conference call.
“This case is not part of the seasonal flu, which circulates in Canada every year.”
The H5N1 strain is unrelated to the seasonal flu outbreak, Ambrose added.
Health officials say the victim had travelled to China last month and was hospitalized after returning to Alberta on Jan. 1, then died two days later.
They say that while it remains unclear how the person contracted the virus, there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
“The health system did everything it could for this individual, and our thoughts are with the family at this time,” Ambrose said.
Dr. James Talbot, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said that family members of the victim are being monitored and treated with medication, nothing that there’s nothing to indicate they are sick.
“Public health has followed up with all close contacts of this individual and offered Tamiflu as a precaution,” Talbot said.
“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.”
The World Health Organization says that as of mid-December, there had been 648 laboratory-confirmed human cases of H5N1 flu since 2003, reported from 15 countries. Of that total, 384 infections have been fatal.
In 2013, there were 38 worldwide cases of H5N1, 24 of which were fatal.