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Canada's first H5N1 victim passed through YVR Airport, died in Alberta

Vancouver International Airport - Wikimedia Commons (author Adrianhjleung)
Vancouver International Airport
— image credit: Wikimedia Commons (author Adrianhjleung)

Health officials have confirmed that North America's first fatal H5N1 victim passed through B.C.'s Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 27, 2013, with the passenger flying from Beijing to Edmonton.

The victim, a Canadian from Alberta, was at YVR for two-and-a-half hours waiting for a connecting flight, but there is a very small, rare chance that anyone else would be in danger of contracting the passenger's influenza, said Dr. Perry Kendall in a statement and media conference on Wednesday.

"From what we know about H5N1, human-to-human transmission is very rare and, if it occurs, is confined to close family contacts," Kendall said in the government's statement. "It is, therefore, extremely unlikely that any passengers or casual contacts would have been at risk."

The victim was hospitalized on Jan. 1, 2014 in Edmonton and died two days later.

H5N1 is also known as "bird flu" – an avian flu – and affects a person's lower deep respiratory tract. Symptoms include a fever and cough, acute respiratory distress, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

"As always, travellers who develop new respiratory symptoms accompanied by breathing difficulty or other signs of worsening within two weeks of their return should consult a physician with information about their travel history," Kendall said.

"Most respiratory illness at this time of year, including among returning travellers, will be due to common viral illness such as seasonal influenza, including the H1N1 virus."

(10 people in Alberta have died of H1N1, or swine flu, this season.)

The H5N1 death was confirmed earlier on Wednesday by Canadian Health Minister Rona Ambrose, who called it an "isolated case".

"The risk of getting H5N1 is very low," Ambrose said. "This is not the regular seasonal flu."

The World Health Organization has confirmed 658 human cases of H5N1 infection, in 15 countries, from 2003 to 2013.

Of those cases, there have been 384 deaths, a fatality rate of nearly 60 per cent.

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