Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall’s statement on H5N1 influenza

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BRITISH Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall released the following statement on Wednesday on the recent H5N1 influenza death in Alberta:

“B.C. was informed last night by Alberta health officials that they have confirmed a fatal case of H5N1 influenza in someone who recently returned from Beijing, China.

“As reported earlier by Health Canada and the Alberta Ministry of Health, this individual died on January 4, 2014, after being treated in Edmonton for severe respiratory illness.

“This individual did travel through the Vancouver International Airport on their way to Edmonton and we have confirmed that the individual spent 2.5 hours in Vancouver airport on December 27 between the hours of 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., awaiting a connecting flight.

“From what we know about H5N1, human-to-human transmission is very rare and, if it occurs, is confined to close family contacts. It is, therefore, extremely unlikely that any passengers or casual contacts would have been at risk. Furthermore, the average incubation period for H5N1 infection is between three and four days, so anyone who might have been exposed to this patient would, by now, have developed recognizable signs and symptoms.

“BC Centre for Disease Control has regularly tested individuals with flu-like symptoms since flu season began, and we have not discovered a case of H5N1 in B.C.

“As always, travellers who develop new respiratory symptoms accompanied by breathing difficulty or other signs of worsening within two weeks of their return should consult a physician with information about their travel history.

“Most respiratory illness at this time of year, including among returning travellers, will be due to common viral illness such as seasonal influenza, including the H1N1 virus.

“BC Centre for Disease Control will continue to monitor this situation and my office will provide additional updates as the need arises or as additional information becomes available.”