WHO is confident bird flu won't spread in Canada
Vials of H5N1 flu vaccine by Beijing-based drug maker Sinovac Biotech Ltd. are seen during production at Sinovac facilities in Beijing, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011. (AP / Andy Wong)
Published Monday, January 13, 2014 7:51AM EST
The World Health Organization says it is confident that the bird flu virus will not spread in Canada after an Alberta nurse who had recently travelled to China died of the virus earlier this month.
Bernhard Schwartlander, a WHO representative in China, said that it’s very rare for the H5N1 virus to be transmitted from one infected person to another.
"That's what makes us confident right now, based on the current evidence, that people do not need to worry in Canada that the virus will spread any further," Schwartlander told CTV News.
The Alberta woman's death was announced last week; she was the first person to die of the bird flu in North America.
Officials say the woman had vacationed in China for three weeks in December and flew home through Vancouver and Edmonton on Dec. 27.
Schwartlander says while Chinese authorities will attempt to track every possible source of the infection, it will be very difficult considering the woman had likely visited several heavily populated areas during her stay.
"Chinese authorities work very closely with the WHO and the Canadian authorities to see whether we can actually track the likely cause, which is not only important to clarify what happened to this person, but also to see whether we can take action to make sure these cases are not happening in the future," he said.
Since the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China, Schwartlander said the attitude and behaviour of health officials in the country has changed "dramatically."
"The Chinese authorities recognize that one, it's an obligation that they have entered into in terms of international health regulations, and second, that it's in their very own interest to protect their own society."
On Monday, the WHO reported that Chinese health officials have confirmed six more human cases bird flu, including one death.
Three of the patients infected with the virus were recently exposed to poultry and two of them are in critical condition.
While the source of infection is still under investigation, the WHO says so far there is no evidence of continued human-to-human transmission.