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North America's First Case of Bird Flu Kills Alberta Woman Who Stopped in Vancouver


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North America has suffered its first death from bird flu after a traveller returned from a trip to China and died of the illness.

Officials said the victim had returned just before New Year from a trip to Beijing to the western plains province of Alberta but otherwise had been completely healthy.

Canada said it was urgently contacting airline passengers on the victim's flights.

Canadian Health Minister Rona Ambrose stressed to a press conference that it was an "isolated case".

The minister said: "I am here to confirm North America's first human case of H5N1, also known as avian flu.

"I want to reassure the public this is an isolated case and the risk of H5N1 to Canadians is very low. There is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission."

The virus is contracted directly from birds, mainly poultry. The illness it causes in humans is severe and 60% of human cases are fatal.

The victim, who is not being identified, began to feel ill during the December 27 flight home to Alberta province, developing a fever and headache.

They were admitted to hospital on January 1 when the symptoms worsened suddenly and they began falling in and out of consciousness.

The patient died two days later.

Doctors said the deceased had travelled with two companions who are not sick but are being kept under observation.

"The patient's family is not showing any sign of illness. There is no evidence of human-to-human transmission on planes.

"All evidence indicates this is one isolated case in an individual who is infected following exposure in China," said Alberta Chief Medical Officer James Talbot.

Canadian officials have notified China and the World Health Organisation, but said they are at a loss to explain where or how the person caught the illness. Beijing had been believed to be free of the bird flu virus.

The victim flew from Beijing to Vancouver on Air Canada flight 030 on December 27, then went on to Edmonton, Alberta, aboard Air Canada flight 244.

The disease is known to have claimed the lives of at least 300 people, mostly in Asia and Africa

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