01/08/2014 09:07 EST | Updated 03/10/2014 05:59 EDT

H5N1 bird flu death linked to YVR: What you need to know

Concerns are growing in British Columbia after a traveller who flew from Beijing to Vancouver in December later died from H5N1 or avian influenza in Edmonton.

The person, who has been identified only as an Alberta resident, first showed symptoms of bird flu on the Dec. 27 flight from Beijing to Vancouver aboard Air Canada flight 3030.

The passenger continued on to Edmonton on a connecting flight and was admitted to hospital Jan. 1. The infected person died Jan. 3.

The case was confirmed in a lab test Tuesday night. It's the first such case in North America.

Speaking on Wednesday, B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, said the person spent 2½ hours in Vancouver International Airport, between 12:30 p.m. PT and 3 p.m. PT on Dec. 27, waiting for the connecting flight.

However, he said, "human-to-human transmission is very rare and confined to close family contact." Therefore, it is extremely unlikely any airport contact with fellow passengers would put them at risk.

He also emphasized that the virus has an incubation period of three to four days, so anyone who had come into contact with the traveller and been infected would have presented symptoms by now.

There have been no H5N1 cases in B.C. to date, although there was an outbreak of the virus among poultry in the Fraser Valley in 2005. Kendall could not confirm whether this was the same strain which proved fatal to the traveller.

According to Kendall, the H5N1 virus has a mortality rate in excess of 60 per cent, and there have been around 600 cases worldwide, in about 15 countries, since 2003.

"It was only a matter of time, given global travel patterns, before we saw cases in North America," he said.