Canadian health officials have confirmed the first known fatal case of the H5N1 avian influenza strain in North America.
Canadian Health Minister Rona Ambrose said the deceased person was an Alberta resident who had recently travelled to Beijing.
Calling the death an “isolated case”, Ms Ambrose said the risk to the general population was low.
Ten people have died in Alberta this season from swine flu, or H1N1.
H5N1 infects the lower respiratory tract deep in the lung, where it can cause deadly pneumonia.
The risk of getting H5N1 is very low. This is not the regular seasonal flu. This is an isolated case.”
Rona Ambrose Canadian Health Minister
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it is difficult to transmit the virus from person to person but when people do become infected, the mortality rate is about 60%.
In the latest incident, the infected person first showed symptoms of the flu on an Air Canada flight from Beijing to Vancouver on 27 December, officials said.
The passenger continued on to Edmonton and on 1 January was admitted to hospital where they died two days later.
Canadian federal health officials said they would not identify the patient’s sex, age or occupation.
Ms Ambrose said Canadian officials were working with Chinese authorities on the case.
“The risk of getting H5N1 is very low. This is not the regular seasonal flu. This is an isolated case,” she said.
According to the WHO, between 2003 and December 2013 there were 648 confirmed human cases of H5N1 infection in 15 countries, leading to 384 deaths.
Experts say that if the H5N1 virus were to mutate and become easily transmissible between humans, the consequences for public health could be very serious.