Canadian health officials said a fatal case of H5N1 bird flu has been reported in Canada, the first known case in North America. The victim was traveling from China when symptoms first appeared.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose said Wednesday that the case in the province of Alberta was an isolated one, and that the risk to the general public is very low.
Officials said the victim began feeling ill on a flight to Canada from Beijing on Dec. 27. They said that it was the first case of H5N1 to appear in Beijing, and that China is 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," said Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada’s acting chief public health officer.
Taylor said the victim only visited Beijing, and had not been on a farm or at markets.
Officials declined to release the sex, age or whereabouts of the victim, who died Jan. 3. They said they don't know how the person contracted the virus.
There is no evidence that the victim infected anyone else. Dr. James Talbot, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said that family members of the victim are being monitored and treated with medication, but noted that there's nothing to indicate they are sick. Talbot said two companions traveled with the victim but have shown no signs of becoming sick.
The H5N1 bird flu virus was first isolated in a human in Hong Kong in 1997 and began to spread throughout Southeast Asia in 2003. There have been 648 laboratory-confirmed human cases of H5N1 flu, reported mostly in Asia, according to the World Health Organization. Of those cases, 384 infections have been fatal.
Experts have been closely watching the H5N1 bird flu virus. While most human infections are linked to contact with infected poultry, scientists fear it could mutate and spread rapidly among people, potentially sparking a pandemic.
Al Jazeera and wire services
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