Scarlett Chai and Sofia Wu report for Taiwan’s Central News Agency that on Jan. 8, 2014, Canada announced that a traveler who had just returned from Beijing had died of H5N1 avian flu.
The next day, Taipei’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) issued a “yellow” travel alert for Beijing. The yellow alert is the second highest on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s three-color coded scale. MAC warned that people who cannot avoid traveling to Beijing should pay special attention to their health and safety. They are urged to:
- Avoid direct contact with birds or poultry.
- Wash their hands frequently.
- Wear a surgical mask.
- Refrain from feeding wild birds, including pigeons, and from eating uncooked meat or eggs.
If travelers to Beijing develop a fever and cough, they should promptly see a doctor upon return to Taiwan.
Canada’s Health Minister Rona Ambrose said at a press conference Wednesday that the patient who died had begun feeling ill with a fever and headache, during a Dec. 27 flight home from Beijing to Alberta province. The person was admitted to hospital Jan. 1, when the symptoms worsened suddenly, and died two days later. A Canadian microbiology laboratory identified the H5N1 virus overnight from a specimen that had been taken before the patient’s death.
Ambrose said it was the first known instance of someone in North America falling victim to that form of avian flu, and that the virus is contracted directly from birds, mainly poultry. The H5N1 virus causes severe illness in humans, with a 60% fatality rate. Ambrose stressed that the Canadian who died was an isolated case, and that “There is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.”
The Canadian Press reports, Jan. 10, 2014, that the Canadian who died from the avian flu was a registered nurse in her late 20s. Health officials believe the woman, whose name has not been released, contracted the H5N1 virus while she was in China, where she had spent most of the month of December in Beijing.
According to Wikipedia, “The global spread of highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza in birds is considered a significant pandemic threat. […] So far, it is very difficult for humans to become infected with H5N1.”