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Speaking Notes – Deputy Chief Public Health Officer

January 8, 2014
Ottawa, ON

H5N1 Technical Briefing

Thank you Minister.

I would like to echo the Minister’s comments in extending our condolences to the family and friends of this individual.

H5N1 influenza is not the same as the seasonal flu.

This is the first and only confirmed human case of H5N1 in North America.

The risk of transmission is very low. There is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission.

H5N1 is an avian form of influenza which has been found to circulate among birds, mainly poultry. It has been found in birds in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

There has only been less than 650 human cases of H5N1 in 15 countries over the last decade, primarily in people who were exposed to infected birds.

The illness it causes in humans is severe and kills about 60 per cent of those who are infected.

No other illnesses of this type have been identified in Canada since the traveller returned from China.

This is an isolated case.

The individual began to feel unwell on a return flight from Beijing to Vancouver (Air Canada 030) and Vancouver to Edmonton (Air Canada 244) on December 27.

The symptoms worsened and the individual was hospitalized, and passed away on January 3.

The Public Health Agency of Canada was notified on January 5th of the case, by Alberta. Our National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg received specimens yesterday.

Last night, January 7th, lab results confirmed this was H5N1. This morning Canadian officials have been in contact with the World Health Organization.

The patient’s family is not showing any signs of illness. There is no evidence of human-to-human transmission on airplanes.

All evidence is indicating that this is one isolated case in an individual who was infected following exposure in China.

Although we don’t know at this time how the individual contracted the virus, for Canadians travelling abroad – in keeping with our travel health advice – we recommend:

If you are travelling to an area where any avian influenza is a concern:

  1. avoid high-risk areas such as poultry farms and live animal markets;
  2. avoid unnecessary contact with birds, including chickens, ducks and wild birds;
  3. avoid surfaces that may have bird droppings or secretions on them; and
  4. ensure that all poultry dishes are well cooked, including eggs .

Thank you