Canada confirms fatal case of H5N1 avian flu in Alberta

Health officials say a Canadian has died of H5N1, also known as the avian flu, in the first-known case in North America.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced on Wednesday that a Canadian who recently returned from a trip to Beijing died in an Alberta hospital earlier this month. On Tuesday, the cause was confirmed to be avian flu.

The World Health Organization considers H5N1 to be a highly infectious, severe respiratory disease in birds which is rarely transmitted to humans.

There have been 648 cases of H5N1 in humans from 15 different countries. Of those, 384 have been fatal.

Until now, there have been no confirmed cases in North America. Several outbreaks have been reported in China and other Asian nations, although not specifically Beijing.

Officials confirmed that the victim returned from a flight from Beijing showing symptoms. The person was treated in hospital and passed away on Jan. 3. The cause of death was confirmed on Tuesday.

There has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission, and doctors say the victim’s family are showing no signs of illness. Officials believe this is a standalone case.

"I'm confident that the chance of transmission is extremely low," said Dr. James Talbot, chief medical officer of health for Alberta Health.