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Human Infection With Avian Influenza A (H5N1) Virus

First case reported in North America (January 15)

According to a new health alert issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Public Health Agency of Canada has identified the first confirmed case of human infection with the avian influenza A (H5N1) virus in North America.

The patient exhibited symptoms while returning from travel to Beijing, China, on December 27, 2013. The patient was hospitalized on January 1, 2014, and died on January 3. Investigations by Canadian public health officials are ongoing.

The CDC notes that since avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses have only been rarely, and never sustainably, transmitted from person to person, there is a very low risk of subsequent related cases. To date, no cases of human infection with avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses have been reported in the U.S.

This case is a reminder, however, that novel influenza A viruses, including avian influenza A (H5N1) virus, can infect and cause severe respiratory illness in humans, the CDC says. The clinical presentation of human infection with avian influenza A viruses varies considerably. Most reports of H5N1 in humans have described severe illness, including fulminant pneumonia leading to respiratory failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and death. Other reported H5N1 complications include encephalitis, septic shock, and multi-organ failure.

The CDC advises clinicians to consider the possibility of avian influenza A (H5N1) virus infection in persons exhibiting symptoms of severe respiratory illness who have appropriate travel or exposure history. This includes persons with recent travel (within 10 days of illness onset) to areas where human cases of avian influenza A (H5N1) virus infection have been detected or where avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses are known to be circulating in animals.

Source: CDC; January 15, 2014.

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