H7N9 bird flu confirmed in B.C. resident who travelled to China

The first human case of H7N9 bird flu in North America has been confirmed in British Columbia, federal health officials say.

Woman had recently travelled to China with a companion who has also shown signs of illness

The H7N9 strain of avian flu has caused over 500 illnesses in China. The first case in North America has shown up in B.C. (Associated Press)

The first human case of H7N9 bird flu in North America has been confirmed in a woman from British Columbia who had recently visited China, health officials say.

The woman does not pose a risk to the public, officials said.

"The individual is a resident of British Columbia and was not symptomatic during travel and only became sick after arrival in Canada. The individual did not require hospitalization and is currently recovering from their illness, in self-isolation," the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement.

The B.C. resident returned to Canada on Jan. 12 from China and began feeling ill on Jan. 14. 

Dr. Gregory Taylor, Canada's chief public health officer, said there is no evidence of human to human transmission. 

Health officials keep a lookout for high-risk bird flu viruses that easily spread from person to person.

Live poultry market likely source

The same strain of avian flu has caused over 500 illnesses in China since 2013, Taylor said. 

Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Most of the cases in China developed severe pneumonia and breathing difficulties, some resulting in death, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s deputy provincial health officer, said a second person, a man who travelled with the infected woman, likely had avian flu and remains a suspect case.

Since the two showed symptoms within a day of each other, health officials said both were likely exposed to a common source of infection, such as waste at a live poultry market in China, rather than one person infecting the other. 

The woman in her 50s had been travelling with her partner, said Dr. Reka Gustafson of Vancouver Coastal Health. He became ill first, and a day or two later the woman became sick enough to seek care from a family doctor, she said.

The couple from B.C.'s Lower Mainland were given the antiviral Tamiflu.

Swabs were taken and the specific result was confirmed by the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

Anyone who has travelled to areas of China with H7N9 and gets sick should consult a doctor.

Outside of mainland China, the federal health agency said, travel-related cases have been confirmed in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia, after exposure to poultry traced to eastern provinces in China.

"There is no indication that international spread has occurred, as contacts of the travellers did not develop illness," the agency said.

Travellers to China should avoid live bird markets and make sure eggs and poultry are cooked properly, health officials recommended. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?