January 08, 2014 - 6:08 PM
THOMPSON-OKANAGAN — British Columbians face little risk of exposure to avian flu, even though North America's first ever case passed through Vancouver International Airport, the province's medical health officer says.
The Alberta woman died last week after contracting H5N1 while in China. She then flew to Edmonton through Vancouver. Dr. Perry Kendall says he was informed last night that a woman died Jan. 3 of H5N1 influenza strain, also known as avian influenza or bird flu. Alberta health officials confirmed she passed through B.C. on a connecting flight home from Beijing, China.
The woman spent about 2.5 hours at the Vancouver airport on Dec. 27 waiting for her flight to Edmonton but the virus rarely spreads through human to human contact. The incubation period had also already passed, Kendall says. It is extremely unlikely anyone else is at risk from this case. The woman did not exhibit any symptoms during the flights, which makes it even less likely it would spread during her travels, he said. The woman started presenting symptoms within a couple days of her flight and went to hospital where she spent several days in ICU.
“It's usually close family contact,” he says of any human to human spread. “The majority is (directly) from infected poultry.”
It can take 7-10 days for symptoms to appear though anyone experiencing symptoms within two weeks of travelling should contact their physician. The H5N1 strain hits very quickly and is very deadly with a mortality rate of about 60 per cent.
This is the first case of H5N1 in North America, Kendall says, though more than 600 cases have presented worldwide since 2003.
H1N1 is more of a concern in B.C. right now and is considered more like a seasonal flu, except it hits younger people harder.
“It's not our parents dying, it's people in our age group,” Kendall says. “People our age have always been susceptible... the older generation has built up immunity.”
He says despite some local dry spots vaccines are still available throughout the province. More than 1.4 million were ordered this year, a record in B.C., and even with the 'unusually high demand' he expects it will be enough. Private suppliers can back fill if needed.
So far, two people have died of H1N1 in B.C., one in the Okanagan and another on Vancouver Island while another death is being investigated. Kendall called this a 'moderate to severe' season so far.
“We can expect a couple hundred cases per year, and a couple deaths... currently we've seen about 100 or so admissions to ICU,” he says. “Influenza B will be coming.... We are still recommending people get vaccinated.”
Kendall notes those heading back to China for the New Year, or travelling for any reason, should avoid poultry markets, avoid contact with live birds and only eat poultry that is fully cooked. The virus usually comes from live chickens or their bodily fluids and raw or undercooked meat can also be infected due to surface contamination.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014