10 people aged between 18 and 64 have died from H1N1 flu, Alberta (Canada) health officials said Monday. 300 people are also in hospital, with 40 in intensive care.
In some parts of Alberta, influenza is starting to clog emergency rooms, limit access to hospital beds and put a strain on other health care resources.
"That is just the tip of the iceberg," Judy MacDonald, medical officer for health for Alberta Health Services Calgary zone, told reporters at the Brentwood clinic Thursday. "We expect that there's much more influenza circulating in our communities that has not been lab-confirmed." People between the ages of 20 and 65 are most susceptible to the H1N1 virus, she said. The elderly are at lower risk because they have "been around a long time" and may have been exposed to it. Children, Dr. MacDonald said, are also at lower risk.
H1N1 is the virus that caused the pandemic in 2009. But it's been circulating for nearly five years, and is now considered one of the seasonal flu viruses. The others are H3N2, also an influenza A virus, and influenza B viruses.
Dr. James Talbot, the chief medical officer of health for Alberta Health, said the outbreak is not a pandemic, but H1N1 is the recurring strain people are getting this year. Escalation in flu cases has prompted health officials to urge people to get a flu shot. "At this point, we've immunized more Albertans than were immunized in the entire flu season last year; and we have immunized them before the peak has arrived. So, that's the optimum," said Dr. James Talbot, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.
In a news release Dr. Frank Atherton stated, "H1N1 is now one of the strains we see every year and it is included in the vaccination. We know that some other Canadian provinces are seeing serious illness among un-vaccinated people and this underlines the importance of getting a flu shot."
Health officials say proper hygiene such as hand-washing and covering your nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing can also help prevent spreading the flu.
Flu symptoms often include sudden high fever, headache, general aches and pains, fatigue and weakness, a runny, stuffy nose, sneezing and sore throat, but can lead to more severe illness such as pneumonia or even death.
Albertans aged 6 months and older can visit one of three public clinics for a free vaccination. The clinics are located at Bonnie Doon Health Center, Northgate Health Center and East Jasper Place Health Center. The vaccine is also offered at some pharmacies, medi-centers and family doctor offices.
The outbreak is also starting to spread to other Canadian provinces, and one person has reportedly died from the flu in Ontario.
Forty cases of the H1N1 strain of influenza were reported in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and flu season is expected to hit its peak at the end of January or early February. Clinics will be held for children aged 0-5 at the CLSC des Faubourgs (Visitation) on Jan. 8 and the CLSC Saint-Louis-du-Parc on Jan. 17.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that in the United States, the flu season has hit southeastern states Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas the hardest so far, and it is expected to spread across the nation in the coming weeks.
Anyone experiencing symptoms including shortness of breath, severe headaches and high fever should visit their family doctor or a medical clinic. If possible, try to avoid emergency rooms, where vulnerable people are at risk.