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Avian flu claims life of Red Deer health-care worker


The Albertan who became the first person in North America to die from avian flu last week was from Red Deer.

The flu victim was a woman in her late 20s of East Asian descent who worked in health care at the Red Deer Regional Hospital. She is believed to have contracted the rare virus during a three-week trip to China in December.

President of the Red Deer and District Chinese Community Society and city councillor Lawrence Lee said Friday his organization has reached out to the victim’s family since the young woman’s death on Jan. 3 to offer any assistance they may require. He said the family of the victim has requested privacy at this time.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday that the avian flu (also known as H5N1) victim visited Beijing from Dec. 6-27 and was a previously healthy adult before coming down with symptoms of the virus during travel on Dec. 27 back to Canada. The woman was hospitalized on Jan. 1 and died on Jan. 3 due to inflammation of the brain and the lining that covers the brain.

The WHO is investigating the case, which has initially puzzled health officials. The most common way to get avian flu is from being in close contact with infected birds, especially poultry, or from visiting a farm, but on her trip to China, the woman stayed in Beijing.

“At this point, nobody knows how she might have contracted that and we’re not aware of any subsequent cases at this time,” said Dr. Digby Horne, Alberta Health Services Central Zone medical officer of health.

Health officials are not providing any personal information about the victim for privacy reasons.

Statistics relating to seasonal influenza in Alberta reduced the number of dead from those flu strains from nine to eight on Thursday, taking away the H5N1 case which had initially been reported in the Central Zone as being related to the seasonal flu.

Officials do not believe there is great risk to the public relating to the H5N1 case, as the virus has not been known to spread person-to-person. Symptoms have not been detected in those who were in close contact with the victim, including family members and the health care workers treating her, who received antiviral treatments after the infection was diagnosed.

Follow-up of airline passengers who may have come into contact with the victim on flights from Beijing to Vancouver and Vancouver to Edmonton is also being conducted.

Since 2003, when the virus was first detected in humans, 649 people have been known to contract H5N1, with 385 of those cases resulting in deaths. Most of the cases have occurred in Asia.

The WHO is not recommending any travel restrictions as a result of the infection and does not advise any special screening of persons at points of entry into Canada.

mfish@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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