H5N1 Bird Flu Kills First North American Victim

Deceased may have contracted the disease in China before boarding flight to Vancouver

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A Canadian who fell ill while traveling home from China has become the first North American to die of the H5N1 avian flu virus, officials said Wednesday.

The person, who authorities declined to identify, became sick last month after flying from Beijing to Vancouver and died on Jan. 3. Tests confirmed the cause of death Tuesday night, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Officials are contacting other passengers aboard the deceased person’s Beijing-Vancouver flight, but they said the risk of person-to-person transmission is low. Humans typically contract avian flu directly from sick birds.

The H5N1 strain of avian flu has been in and out of the news in the U.S. and Canada since fears over it first emerged a decade ago. It has claimed nearly 400 lives around the world, according to the World Health Organization statistics.

Human infection by other strains of avian flu have more recently been reported in China and Taiwan.

[Wall Street Journal]