The young Red Deer woman who is the first North American known to have contracted and died from the H5N1 avian flu virus worked hard and saved money for a vacation to her home country that would turn out to be her last.
Born in China, the woman who died on Jan. 3 from the rare virus came to Red Deer to fulfill a dream of becoming a nurse, putting herself through her studies at Red Deer College. The woman graduated with her degree in 2010 before earning a job as a registered nurse in the operating room at the Red Deer Regional Hospital.
The family of the woman, who was in her late 20s, released a statement through Alberta Health Services this morning talking about the “energetic … driven, and passionate” victim. The family wishes that the woman not be identified, citing privacy, and is not providing media with any interviews.
The woman died last week after falling ill upon her return from a three-week vacation to Beijing in December. Health officials are investigating her death, which has been determined to be the first fatality relating to avian flu in the Americas.
“Our beloved daughter and wife was a hard-working, independent young woman,” starts the statement.
“She married her husband a year and a half ago; and together they created a happy life in Red Deer. She worked hard and had saved for a vacation, which she took in December 2013 with her mother. Together, they travelled on a trip which would sadly turn out to be her last,” it reads.
“We are devastated by her death, and we request time to grieve in privacy.”
The case has puzzled health officials, as the deadly form of influenza is usually transmitted to humans who come in close contact with infected birds. Officials investigating the case say the woman stayed in Beijing during her trip to China and did not visit any farms or poultry markets.
The cause of the woman’s death, from inflammation of the brain and the lining that covers the brain, is also rather rare. The women is reported to have initially not had a cough or other respiratory-type symptoms, which are common among bird flu sufferers and which made her diagnosis a challenge early on.
Health officials have said there is little risk to other humans relating to the virus, as it is not known to spread person-to-person. In the last 10 years, 649 people worldwide have contracted the virus — the majority of whom lived in East Asia — with 385 of those cases resulting in deaths.