There has been at least one confirmed fatal case of the H5N1 flu in North America, according to Canadian Health Minister, Rona Ambrose.
What is known about the deceased patient is that she is a woman in her twenties who had spent several weeks in China’s capital, Beijing. On Dec. 27, she felt ill on her flight home, and the next day sought medical treatment. Her symptoms at the time consisted of malaise, headache, and fever but she was sent home.
According to officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) which is also investigating this case, she is the first person on the continent to die of the H5N1 flu. As of mid-December, there have been 648 laboratory-confirmed human cases of H5N1 flu since 2003, mostly reported from Asia. Approximately 380 of those infections have been fatal.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website, flu.gov the H5N1 strain is a highly pathogenic avian flu virus that has caused serious outbreaks in domestic poultry, in parts of Asia and the Middle East. It is rare for the virus to spread from bird to humans. However, if so, it is usually by coming into contact with an infected or dead poultry, and it does not spread from human to human. The virus has a 60% fatality rate in humans.
“As Canada’s Health Minister I want to reassure the public this is an isolated case,” Ambrose told 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.”
Officials at the WHO are trying to retrace the victim’s last steps before she became ill; this is first known case of avian flu that has been imported by a traveler to a country with no known cases of the disease in poultry.
The CDC is not recommending that the public take any special actions regarding H5N1 virus in response to the Canadian case. However, according to the flu.gov website here is a list of basic things to prevent H5N1 virus infection:
Infection is highly unlikely from properly handled and cooked poultry and eggs. When preparing poultry or eggs:
Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw poultry or eggs
Clean cutting boards and other utensils with soap and water to keep raw poultry from contaminating other foods.
Use a food thermometer to make sure poultry cooks to a temperature of at least 165o F.
Cook eggs until whites and yolks are firm.
S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on twitter @ReporterandGirl or on Facebook.com/TheReporterandTheGirl and visit her website at www.SCRhyne.com