By Val Willingham
(CNN) — Canadian health officials confirmed Wednesday that a resident from Alberta has died from H5N1 avian flu, the first case of the virus in North America.
Canada’s Health Minister, Rona Ambrose, said the infected individual had recently traveled to Beijing.
The Canadian case also is the first case of H5N1 infection ever imported by a traveler into a country where the virus is not present in poultry. No such H5N1 viruses have been detected in people or in animals in the United States.
Ambrose stressed that Canadians should not be worried about contracting the virus.
“As Canada’s Health Minister I want to reassure the public this is an isolated case,” Ambrose said. “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.”
According to the World Health Organization, most avian flu viruses do not cause disease in humans. However, some like H5N1 are zoonotic, which means they can infect humans and cause disease, even death. The H5N1 virus has been primarily found in poultry in parts of Asia and northeastern Africa, where some people have contracted the virus and died.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the 648 human cases of H5N1 infections that have been detected since 2003 have occurred in people with direct or close contact with poultry.
The CDC considers that the health risk to people in the Americas posed by the detection of this one case is very low. The U.S. agency is not recommending that the public take any special actions regarding H5N1 virus in response to the Canadian case.
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