A Canadian man marks the first bird flu death in North America, officials from the country reported Wednesday. The Alberta man initially contracted the virus while travelling abroad in Beijing, China, where infected poultry and dense population has made the H5N1 strain particularly virulent.
So far, no cases of H5N1 have been reported in the United States among both humans and animals, and, in fact, this is the first case ever, the officials said, of someone bringing the virus across international lines to a country where the disease isn’t already present. Rona Ambrose, Canadian’s Health Minister, said people shouldn’t be worried about contracting the virus.
"As Canada's Health Minister I want to reassure the public this is an isolated case,” said Ambrose, according to CNN. "The risk of H5N1 to Canadians is very low. There is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission. It is also important for Canadians to know that this case is not part of the seasonal flu which circulates in Canada every year."
Most strains of bird flu aren’t disease-causing in humans. But then there are others, which are known as zoonotic, meaning they can infect humans and cause disease, according to the World Health Organization. Among these strains are H7N7, H9N2, and, since it started circulating around parts of northeast Africa and Asia in 1997, H5N1.
While it may be disheartening, troublesome even, to hear the H5N1 strain has made its way to North America, since 2003 only 648 human cases of the virus have been detected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people do not need to take special precautions as a result of the outbreak in Canada, nor are there any restrictions for people traveling “to any of the countries affected by highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A (H5N1) virus in poultry.”