A fatal case of H5N1 bird flu has been reported in Canada, the first such case in North America, Canadian health officials have confirmed.
Officials said the person began to feel ill on a flight to Canada from Beijing on Dec. 27. It is the first human case of H5N1 circulating in Beijing and therefore Chinese health officials will also be looking into the case.
“The victim only visited Beijing in China. The victim did not travel to a farm or visit markets”, Dr Gregory Taylor, deputy chief health officer in Canada, said.
Experts have been closely watching the H5N1 bird flu virus. The virus remains hard to catch with most human infections linked to contact with infected poultry, but scientists fear it could mutate and spread rapidly among people, potentially sparking a pandemic.
The World Health Organization says that as of mid-December, there had been 648 laboratory-confirmed human cases of H5N1 flu, reported mostly in Asia. Of that total, 384 infections have been fatal.
Avian influenza A H5N1 is endemic in poultry in China. Since 2003, 45 cases of human infection with H5N1 have been reported in China and 30 (67%) have died, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.
“This is the first detected case of human infection with avian influenza A H5N1 virus in North or South America. It also is the first case of H5N1 infection ever imported by a traveller into a country where this virus is not present in poultry. No such H5N1 viruses have been detected in people or in animals in the United States,” the CDC confirmed.