OTTAWA, Ontario – Canada confirmed the first H5N1 avian flu death in North America, according to news reports. Speaking at a press conference, Canada Health Minister Rona Ambrose said it was an "isolated case."
The victim, who lived in the province of Alberta, had recently returned from a trip to Beijing. Officials did not release the person's name to protect the family's privacy. Officials said the victim became sick on Dec. 27 and died Jan. 3. A federal lab in Winnipeg, Manitoba, confirmed the H5N1 virus from a sample taken when the patient was alive.
The victim was traveling with two companions. Officials have secured a passenger list and were contacting people on the same flight as the victim. Canadian officials also have notified China and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The US Food and Drug Administration said most influenza A viruses don't infect people. But the H5N1 virus has caused illness and death in people outside the US. WHO states that 60 percent of those infected with H5N1 virus die. The virus has the potential to become a pandemic because it continues to infect wild birds which has led to occasional outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry populations. Humans have no immunity to the virus.
In November, FDA approved a vaccine for the prevention of H5N1. The vaccine was be added to the National Stockpile for distribution by public health officials if needed.