Influenza Facts – H1N1 H5N1 and Your Health

Avian Influenza, Influenza, Thunder Bay

Getting the Facts on Influenza

THUNDER BAY – Canada has reported the first death from H5N1 Influenza. The individual, in Alberta died as a result of the virus. The person had travelled to China in December, and apparently contracted the H5N1 virus. Upon returning to Canada, the individual was admitted to hospital on January 1 2014 and passed away on January 3rd 2014.

Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne released the following statement; “Results that were received from the provincial laboratory on Monday, and confirmed by the National Microbiology Laboratory on Tuesday, indicate that an Albertan has died from H5N1 avian influenza. This individual travelled to China in December. Upon returning to Alberta, this person was admitted to hospital on Jan. 1 and passed away on Jan. 3.  

“I would like to extend my condolences to the family for the loss of their loved one. I also want to thank our health care workers and our Chief Medical Officer of Health for their swift action and for their close co-ordination with the Government of Canada.”

“This is a very rare and isolated case,” said Dr. James Talbot, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. “Avian influenza is not easily transmitted from person to person. It is not the same virus that is currently present in seasonal influenza in Alberta. “Public health has followed up with all close contacts of this individual and offered Tamiflu as a precaution. None of them have symptoms and the risk of developing symptoms is extremely low. Precautions for health care staff were also taken as part of this individual’s hospital treatment,” added Talbot.

“I expect that with the rarity of transmission and the additional precautions taken, there will be no more cases in Alberta.”

In 2013, there were 38 world-wide cases of H5N1 avian influenza reported to the World Health Organization and 24 deaths.

Don’t Get Confused by the Flu

With H1N1 — seasonal flu — making headlines, this new Influenza development may trigger flu confusion.

First off, H5N1 and H1N1 are not the same thing. The Center for Disease Control states, “H5N1 is a virus that occurs mainly in birds, is highly contagious among birds, and can be deadly to them, especially domestic poultry. Since December 2003, highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) virus infections in birds have been reported in Asia, Africa, and Europe. H5N1 viruses are considered endemic (ever present) in poultry in at least six countries (alphabetically: Bangladesh, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Vietnam) with sporadic detection in wild birds and poultry outbreaks occurring in other countries.

“The virus also is circulating widely in other countries in those regions. From 2003 through December 10, 2014, 648 laboratory-confirmed human cases with H5N1 virus infection have been officially reported to WHO from 15 countries. Of these cases, 384 died (60%). At the current time, there is no ongoing transmission of any avian influenza A viruses in humans, including H5N1 viruses”.

H1N1 Facts

Seasonal influenza is an acute viral infection caused by an influenza virus.

There are three types of seasonal influenza – A, B and C. Type A influenza viruses are further typed into subtypes according to different kinds and combinations of virus surface proteins. Among many subtypes of influenza A viruses, currently influenza A(H1N1) and A(H3N2) subtypes are circulating among humans. Influenza viruses circulate in every part of the world. Type C influenza cases occur much less frequently than A and B. That is why only influenza A and B viruses are included in seasonal influenza vaccines.

Signs and symptoms

Seasonal influenza is characterized by a sudden onset of high fever, cough (usually dry), headache, muscle and joint pain, severe malaise (feeling unwell), sore throat and runny nose. Most people recover from fever and other symptoms within a week without requiring medical attention. But influenza can cause severe illness or death in people at high risk (see below). The time from infection to illness, known as the incubation period, is about two days.

Who is at risk?

Yearly influenza epidemics can seriously affect all age groups, but the highest risk of complications occur among children younger than age two, adults age 65 or older, and people of any age with certain medical conditions, such as chronic heart, lung, kidney, liver, blood or metabolic diseases (such as diabetes), or weakened immune systems.

Essential Influena Facts

What is avian influenza (H5N1)?
Avian influenza (H5N1), commonly known as “bird flu”, is a viral infection that can spread easily and quickly among birds.

A particularly strong subtype called the Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Asian Strain has been circulating among birds in parts of Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.


Type A avian influenza virus.

Risk to travellers

The risk for most travellers is low. Infection with avian influenza (H5N1) in humans is rare.  To date, human to human infection spread is very rare.


People who become infected with avian influenza (H5N1) can become seriously ill and in some cases die. Fatality rate among hospitalized patients with confirmed infection is high (about 60%).



Antiviral drugs may be able to reduce the severity and duration of illness, if taken early enough.


  • Can take two to eight days and possibly longer to appear.
  • Usually include symptoms similar to human influenza such as fever, cough, aching muscles and sore throat.
  • In more severe cases people may develop serious respiratory conditions such as pneumonia which may lead to death.


  • Humans catch avian influenza from infected birds. This happens only on rare occasions. Most human cases have been traced to direct contact with live infected birds or their droppings.

Where is Avian Influenza (H5N1) a concern?

  • Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa have all had outbreaks of avian influenza (H5N1) in poultry since 1997.

The World Health Organization (WHO) posts information on the total number of human cases of avian influenza andmaps of where human cases of Avian Influenza have occurred.

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