Avian influenza or H5N1 has claimed the first North American victim in the Canadian city of Edmonton, Alberta. The tourist was in China with two other people in December when they were exposed to the disease.
The Edmonton victim was on an Air Canada 030 flight from Beijing to Vancouver, BC, on December 27 when the tourist began to feel ill. The travellers then flew from Vancouver to Edmonton via Air Canada flight 244. The victim was admitted to hospital four days later and succumbed to avian influenza on January 3, 2014.
Health Canada officials have not released any details on the victim so the age and gender remain unknown. It is also unknown whether the victim possessed any underlying health conditions prior to catching the H5N1 virus.
Canadian officials from Health Canada said that the case is an “isolated” one, but the two other travellers are being carefully monitored by health-care workers.
H5N1 is a newer strain of avian influenza that is known to spread quickly from bird to bird. However bird to human transmission of the disease is fairly rare, as it requires human contact with an infected bird. Transmission from human to human is even rarer, according to Canada’s government travel advisory website. All North American and world travellers should be aware of all the facts on avian flu if they plan to be in countries known to have reported cases of H5N1 in the past.
Travellers that will be in any avian influenza areas should be contacting their doctors at least six weeks prior to leaving. While abroad, travellers should avoid touring any poultry farms or open markets. Travellers are recommended to avoid any direct bird contact and droppings and should only eat well cooked poultry and eggs. It is also recommended to use hand sanitizer and to wash hands frequently as a precaution.
If a traveller suspects he or she may have been in contact with H5N1 or if the traveller have been diagnosed with the disease, that person must speak with a customs officer upon returning home. Customs officers will then confer with a quarantine officer to determine the next course of action.
The type A avian influenza virus has symptoms that are very similar to a regular flu, except it has a 60 percent mortality rate for hospitalized patients. The symptoms include a sore throat, coughing, and sore muscles in most cases of H5N1. The victims can also develop pneumonia or other respiratory conditions in more serious cases. The incubation period can vary as symptoms usually start to show up anywhere from two to eight days after the initial transmission of the disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) records data on avian influenza H5N1 and last year cases were reported in Indonesia, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Egypt. Bangladesh reported one case of avian influenza and Egypt documented four cases. Indonesia had three and Vietnam reported two more. Cambodia had the largest number of cases reported in 2013, with 55 percent of global reports and 14 resulting in death.
Cambodia had a total of 26 reported cases in 2013. The H5N1 virus was first reported in Southeast Asia in 2005 and up until 2012 had reported a total of 21 cases over the eight years.
Since H5N1 has first been documented in 2003, Indonesia has claimed the most victims of avian influenza with 195 reported cases and 163 deaths. These stats suggest that the number of cases of the disease spreading to human is on a steep decline. Indonesia also has the highest mortality rate among the world’s victims with 83 percent of cases ending in death.
Since 2003 WHO reports the total number of worldwide cases to be 648 victims and 384 total fatalities (59 percent).
Although human cases of avian influenza are on the decline, the recent death of the North American victim from H5N1 still proves there still is a real and potential danger to anyone travelling abroad.
By Brent Matsalla