North America's first human case of H7N9 bird flu virus confirmed in B.C.
Sonja Puzic, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, January 26, 2015 2:15PM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 26, 2015 3:41PM EST
North America’s first human case of the H7N9 virus, a new type of avian influenza, has been confirmed in British Columbia, Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced Monday.
A couple in their 50s from B.C.’s lower mainland recently returned from a trip to China and began developing symptoms of a flu-like illness within a day or two of each other, health officials said.
The H7N9 virus was confirmed in the female patient, who saw her family doctor when she fell ill, but did not require hospitalization. It’s believed that the woman’s partner also contracted H7N9, but that has not yet been confirmed.
Both people have been treated with anti-viral medication and are now recovering, health officials said. No one they had contact with since returning to Canada has been reported as sick.
Ambrose said the risk to the public is very low since evidence shows that H7N9 does not transmit easily from person to person. B.C. health officials stressed Monday that H7N9 is different from H5N1, another strain of the avian flu that has killed nearly 400 people since 2003, mostly in Asia.
H7N9 has never before been seen in North America, either in birds or humans. According to the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human cases of H7N9 were first reported in China in March 2013.
Health authorities believe that the B.C. couple contracted the virus from a “common exposure,” rather than infecting one another.
They had “classic” influenza-like symptoms, including fever and cough, but one of the patients said the illness felt “different,” officials told reporters in a teleconference call Monday.
The Public Health Agency of Canada was notified of the situation on Jan. 23 and the national lab in Winnipeg confirmed an H7N9 infection in the female patient this morning.
Most of the avian flu infections in humans are believed to be related to exposure to infected birds and contaminated environments. Chief Public Health Officer Greg Taylor said Canadian travellers should avoid visiting live poultry markets and any contact with birds and their droppings.
Just over a year ago, North America’s first human case of the more deadly H5N1 avian flu was confirmed in an Alberta patient who died. That person had also travelled to China before becoming ill.
At that time, health officials also stressed that the risk of further H5N1 infections in Canada was very low.