A deadly case of H5N1 bird flu was reported in Canada, making it the first instance in North America, health officials said on Thursday.
The victim was traveling when they fell ill on the flight to Canada from Beijing December 27.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose said the case — which occurred in Alberta — was an isolated incident, and the risk posed to the general public is very low.
The H5N1 case is the first reported in Beijing, and Chinese authorities are looking into it.
“This is the first evidence of this particular virus circulating in Beijing. Chinese authorities are going to be very interested. We’ve contacted them already,” Dr. Gregory Taylor said.
Taylor said the victim only visited Beijing and did not go to a market or farm while in the city.
The World Health Organization reports that 648 laboratory-confirmed human cases of H5N1 flu, mostly in Asia, have occurred so far. Of that total, 384 infections have resulted in death.
The H5N1 virus remains hard to detect in humans, and health officials have been monitoring it closely. Most human infections come after contact with infected poultry.
The fear is that the H5N1 will mutate and start spreading via human contact, causing a possible pandemic.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, James Talbot, says the family of the victim is being monitored and given antibiotics, although there are no signs of symptoms related to the bird flu.
Talbot also said the person who died form the H5N1 was traveling with two others, who have no illness either.
“This is not a disease that’s transmitted between humans so unless you were in the infected area and were in contact with an infected bird you are not going to get this illness,” Dr. Theresa Tam of Health Canada said.
At this time, the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) is not urging Americans to take any precautions following the deadly case of H5N1 in Canada.