SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- Canadian officials said Monday they had confirmed the first case of the H7N9 strain of avian flu in North America but stressed that broader risks to the public were very slight.
The infected person was a British Columbia woman who recently had returned from China, and a man who had traveled with her was likely also infected, officials said. The couple weren’t sick enough to need hospitalization, they said, adding that both were recovering and that the family was self-isolating.
“The Public Health Agency of Canada advises that the risk to Canadians is very low as there is no evidence to suggest that H7N9 transmits easily from person to person,” Canadian Health Minister Rona Ambrose said.
Though most viruses that affect birds don’t cause disease in people, some, including H7N9, can make humans sick. Bird flu has become a global worry since an outbreak of the H5N1 strain in Hong Kong in 1997 killed six people.
The H7N9 strain is of particular concern because the infection doesn’t sicken birds, only humans, which makes the virus more difficult to detect. When it does infect humans, patients have become severely ill, according to the World Health Organization.
Canada has informed the WHO, Chinese officials and other international partners about the case, Ms. Ambrose said.
Officials said the couple, who were on a guided tour in China for part of the time and traveled on their own for the rest of the trip, were likely infected from a common source. The couple returned to Canada on Jan. 12, and the woman fell ill two days later.
“The couple got symptomatic within a day of each other so yes, we are very confident that this is an illness due to a common exposure rather than transmission from one person to another,” said Dr. Reka Gustafson, a medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health.
H7N9 was first detected in people in March 2013 in China, according to the WHO website. Most of the cases of human infection have involved recent exposure to live poultry or potentially contaminated environments, such as markets. Sustained human-to-human transmission hasn’t been reported.