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More than a dozen patients are in intensive care, some on ventilators, because of the H1N1 flu virus, according to the chief medical officer for a B.C. Lower Mainland health authority.
Dr. Paul Van Buynder, with Fraser Health, said Friday that 15 patients, many of them otherwise healthy, young people, were recently admitted to hospitals in the region.
“It is a lot for us at this particular time, especially because there is not a lot of circulating disease in the community at this point, and so we’re worried that this has happened to so many people so quickly,” he said.
He says the ages of the patients turning up with H1N1 flu span the spectrum, and include those in their 30s. He also said at least one of the patients is pregnant, and also that one person may have died from this flu strain.
“I have one person who hasn’t been confirmed, but I’m pretty sure did pass away from this,” Van Buynder told CBC News.
Van Buynder said medical officials are seeing small pockets of H1N1 breaking out across the region, in a pattern mirroring the flu’s spread in Alberta, Ontario and Texas.
Alberta’s Health Minister Fred Horne says there have been 965 lab-confirmed cases, another 251 people have been hospitalized due to influenza and five people have died so far this flu season.
The H1N1 flu outbreak of 2009, which the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, prompted mass immunizations across Canada.
Van Buynder said anyone visiting a hospital or health facility in B.C. will either need to wear a mask, or be vaccinated against the flu — and he said that previous vaccinations against H1N1 may not help anymore due to mutations in the virus.
“Certainly we don’t think everybody should be reassured by previously being vaccinated, and we’d like them to make sure that they go out and get it again,” he said.
Fraser Health serves more than 1.6 million people from Burnaby to Hope, to Boston Bar.
Albertans urged to get flu shots 3:00
Alberta Health Services (AHS) says there are more than 965 confirmed flu cases in the province and there have been five deaths.
“Those are only people who have gone to seek medical attention and physicians have done specimens that have been sent to the lab and those have been confirmed positive,” said Dr. Judy McDonald. “We expect that there is much more influenza circulating in our communities that has not been lab confirmed.”
Officials say 920 of those cases are of the H1N1 strain, which is covered by this year’s flu vaccine. The overall number of flu cases has jumped by 50 per cent in one week.
Dr. Glen Armstrong, an infectious disease expert, says the numbers aren’t a record but more than the province has seen in recent years.
“It may be that because we’ve had a bit of a holiday over the last couple of years. People have become complacent and are thinking, ‘OK, it’s no big deal, you know I don’t need to get vaccinated,'” he said.
Armstrong says even if you got the H1N1 vaccine during the 2009 pandemic, you should get immunized again.
“Because you don’t get lifelong immunity,… you get sort of a spike of immunity that will protect you for maybe a year or so. But after that immunity starts to wane and so this is a good opportunity to get revaccinated and to boost your immunity back up again to give you maximum protection,” he said.
Mass immunization clinics reopen
Health officials are urging people to get the vaccination, particularly before children head back to school.
Albertans who have not yet received a flu shot can still visit AHS mass immunization clinics, local pharmacies and family physician offices.
The vaccine is still available, free of charge, to all Albertans six months of age and older. But officials are reminding Albertans that children under the age of nine are not able to receive the vaccine at pharmacies.
Alberta Health Services clinics at Brentwood Mall in Calgary’s northwest and at the South Calgary Health Centre are both open today.
Mass immunization clinics in Edmonton will reopen Friday at the Bonnie Doon Health Centre and Northgate Health Centre from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. MT.
For complete details on clinic locations and hours, call Health Link Alberta toll free at 1-866-408-5465 or visitalbertahealthservices.ca/influenza.