A Canadian woman who recently traveled to China has been diagnosed with H7N9 bird flu, an often deadly strain that’s infected close to 500 people in China, officials said Monday.
The woman’s male traveling companion has flu-like symptoms and may also be infected, health officials in British Columbia said.
They say there’s almost no risk the two will infect anyone else.
“Today we are confirming the first case of H7N9 in humans in North America,” Canada’s health minister Rona Ambrose said in a statement.
“Today we are confirming the first case of H7N9 in humans in North America."
“Public Health Agency of Canada continues to advise and emphasize that H7N9 does not spread easily from person to person and the risk remains very low.”
The woman is recovering, British Columbia health minister Terry Lake said.
“The individual is a resident of British Columbia and was not symptomatic during travel and only became sick after arrival in Canada. The individual did not require hospitalization and is currently recovering from their illness, in self-isolation,” the Canadian health ministry said in a statement.
“All close contacts of the individual have been identified and their health is being monitored by provincial public health authorities. The Canadian healthcare system has strong procedures and controls in place to respond to and control the spread of infectious diseases and protect healthcare workers.”
H7N9 is one of many different strains of avian influenza circulating among wild birds and domestic poultry. It’s one of two strains that have infected people more than once or twice. The other strain is H5N1 avian influenza.
The World Health Organization has reported 485 people have been infected with H7N9 and says 185 people have died of it. H5N1 has infected nearly 700 people in 16 countries, killing about 400.
Just a year ago, a Canadian woman who had recently traveled to China died of H5N1.
“All close contacts of the individual have been identified."
H5N1 bird flu dominated the headlines for years, only to be driven off the front pages first by a pandemic of H1N1 swine flu in 2009, and then by the new H7N9 avian influenza last year and the MERS coronavirus in the Middle East.
Health experts worry that any one of these three new viruses could change into a form that spreads easily from person to person. With modern air travel, any epidemic can become a global pandemic within days.
U.S. officials are watching for birds to carry strains of avian influenza into the United States. Just last week, the first case of highly pathogenic H5N1 was found in the U.S., in a duck shot by a hunter in Washington. But it's a different strain from the H5N1 infecting people.
And a strain called H5N8 has been found in a commercial flock of turkeys owned by Foster Farms in California. Many of the strains of bird flu are highly deadly to poultry and because of the danger to both birds and, to a lesser degree, to people, flocks are destroyed when an infected bird is found in their midst.
This H5N8 strain has never infected people. Foster Farms said it would destroy the affected birds. H5N8 has also affected flocks in South Korea, Germany, Italy, Britain and the Netherlands.