Island Health is urging flu shots as adults become the “unusual” target of severe cases of H1N1.
Forty-eight people have been hospitalized across the Island Health region with the H1N1 flu strain since the start of the outbreak in December, including more than a dozen in Nanaimo. Nine people are currently battling the illness at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, with one influenza-related death recorded so far. Island Health says the person who died was under the age of 65 with pre-existing health conditions, but did not release any further details.
According to Dr. Paul Hasselback, central Island medical health officer, death is a tragic but not uncommon result of the flu. Influenza is a serious illness that can kill and puts more people in the hospital annually than any other communicable disease in the country, he said, adding “we kind of forget that during mild years.” This season H1N1 – the same virus that became a global pandemic in 2009 – has emerged as the dominant flu strain with 42.5 per cent of respiratory illnesses testing positive for the influenza by the end of December, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
While there are no more cases of the flu than the average year over the last decade, Hasselback says the age of those hit the hardest is different. Last week, two-thirds of the people hospitalized in Nanaimo were under the age of 65.
“Typically influenza most effects extreme ages – the very young and very old. It’s unusual for us to be getting these severe manifestations happening in the adult population,” Hasselback said, adding the flu seems to be hitting middle-aged patients.
Island Health, which has focused H1N1 vaccinations on seniors and children under the age of five, hasn’t seen outbreaks in local schools and long-term care facilities yet. It’s good news for care facilities, which see the highest number of deaths connected to influenza because of vulnerable residents, Hasselback said.
The health authority and its central Island medical health officer have seen a 12 per cent higher uptake for vaccine this year, but continue to remind people about the importance of getting the flu shot, which protects against H1N1. Hasselback is also suggesting hand-washing, staying home if you are sick and keeping ill children out of school.
For most, H1N1 will feel like the typical flu with muscle pains, fever and a cough. Those who have pre-existing medical conditions and develop flu symptoms are recommended to contact a health professional.