H1N1 virus comes to Prince Albert region

Jodi Schellenberg
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The H1N1 virus has made it into Saskatchewan and has moved north into the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region.

People in the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region are urged to get their influenza vaccine to help protect them from the H1N1 virus. About 20 people have already contracted the virus in the region.

With cases popping up across Canada and the province, the H1N1 virus is proving to be highly contagious.

“In the region, the number of lab confirmed cases is at 18,” PAPHR medical officer Dr. Khami Chokani said. “What we can say is we are not sure where people have contracted the influenza from. The one thing that is there for sure is that for those who have had the flu shot this year, they are not getting sick.”

In all of the identified and lab-confirmed cases in the region, the people involved have not received a flu shot.

“What is even more challenging is in the cases where there have been kids below the age of six months, and we have had a couple of them, unfortunately the parents never took the flu shot,” Chokani said. “They put the little ones at risk. Then we have those in the elderly population, and there are only just a couple of them, but the thing is the ones they lived with didn’t have the flu shot and they themselves didn’t have the flu shot.”

The H1N1 virus is included in the flu shot this year, Chokani said, and “it is a really good match.”

The problem with the H1N1 virus is it was a pandemic strain that has become seasonal, Chokani said.

“The other things with the H1N1 is it really likes to target those who are within the working age group, especially those who are considered to be the healthier ones and not really within our risk groups,” Chokani said. “Because of the way it is, it is making those people more sick because they are more healthy and they have a more vigorous response to the virus and are getting sick.

“That is why having the influenza vaccine is important -- your body is more aware and is able to mount an appropriate response,” he added.

Although it is a more dangerous strain of influenza, Chokani said the symptoms are like the common influenza strains.

“They are regular flu symptoms -- you just feel like you have this cold that has come on and is knocking you down,” Chokani said. “It can also be mild as well.”

Anyone who has received an H1N1 vaccination, not just including this year’s flu shot, but also the 2009 pandemic shot, are better protected.

“Certainly for those who have had the flu shot, especially those who have not only had the flu shot in this past fall, but even those who had the pandemic flu shot in 2009, they are in a much better position than those who didn’t take either,” Chokani said.

The other reason people may be underprepared is because the flu season has come at a later time than other years.

“We have to remember in our region, in P.A., as well as the rest of the region and in Canada, the season has come a little later but also there have been a lot of other types of viruses that have been circulating such as the human metapneumovirus and rhino adeno virus (common cold), which can also make you feel really sick,” Chokani said. “Unfortunately we do not have a vaccine against those viruses but we have one against influenza.”

According to Saskatchewan deputy chief medical officer Denise Werker, there have been 161 lab confirmed cases of H1N1 in the province and three confirmed deaths.

Although there have been three deaths, all had underlying health conditions that contributed to their illness. She said the deaths serve as a reminder to get young children vaccinated.

People are still able to get a flu shot, Chokani said.

“They can call into public health nursing in the Mac Mall if you are in P.A. or into your local public health office outside of P.A.,” Chokani said. “They will be able to let you know when it is available … It really is important that people get their flu shots.”

In order to have a good herd immunity, 90 per cent of the population has to be vaccinated and only approximately 20 per cent of the people in the province get their flu shot, he said.

Chokani also wants people to follow good cough etiquette if they are not feeling well.

“If you are coughing and do have to go see your physician, ask them at the desk for a mask,” Chokani said. “The reason for the mask, they essentially protect others around because you can be coughing and other people around you (can be) infected.”

He also asks people to remember to wash their hands.

“Please people, you have to wash your hands and practise good cough etiquette,” Chokani said. “In other words, cough into the crook of your elbow, avoid coughing into your hands.

“You have to handle things and you may have to shake hands with somebody else and you don’t want to pass it on,” Chokani added. “If you are sick, please -- yes I know we are social beings so we need to interact with other people but if you are sick please don’t spread it around by (going out). Stay at home and get well.”


Flu clinics in the health region

There are already planned flu clinics in the health region. In addition to the clinic held at Mac Mall on Friday, other clinics will be:

• Monday at the Shellbrook Parkland Integrated Health Centre from 1 to 4:30 p.m.

• Monday at Mac Mall in Prince Albert 8:30 to 12 p.m. and 1 to 4:30 p.m.

Additional clinics will be posted at the health region website, www.princealbertparklandhealth.com.

Organizations: Prince Albert, Shellbrook Parkland Integrated Health Centre

Geographic location: Canada, Saskatchewan, P.A.

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