Return of H1N1 puts flu measures on the agenda
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Return of H1N1 puts flu measures on the agenda

With flu season bearing down on us, hype about the influenza A (H1N1) virus is building back up, though thankfully not at the levels we saw in 2009.

A vaccine for the strain is included in this year’s flu shot.

While there has been a renewed outbreak in parts of Canada, H1N1 hasn’t reached the kind of numbers seen when the virus first began to circulate. That said, the H1N1 influenza, the most common flu virus in Canada this year, has a higher than anticipated mortality rate, which has medical experts wondering if it’s virulence has increased.

As of the start of the week, there were 10 confirmed deaths in Alberta attributed to H1N1, as well as one in British Columbia, six in Saskatchewan, six in Ontario, one in Quebec and two in Nova Scotia.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 96 per cent of this year’s lab-confirmed influenza is type A (H1N1). The virus is unusual in that it appears to affect younger people more than other strains of seasonal influenza. People aged 20 to 65 are being hit harder than usual, comprising 52 per cent of flu cases. Normally, 80 per cent of people who die from seasonal flu are 65 years of age or older, but during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, between 62 and 85 per cent of those who died were younger than 65.

In Canada, seasonal flu normally contributes to approximately 20,000 hospital admissions and between 4,000 and 8,000 deaths annually.

During the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, the virus caused more than 284,000 deaths worldwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At that time, the World Health Organization declared H1N1 as a pandemic virus. However, the virus is now circulating like a seasonal influenza virus.

The CDC received an unusually high number of reports of severe respiratory illness among young and middle-aged adults in the last two months of 2013.

The World Health Organization, which is tracking the virus worldwide again, says the H1N1 flu remains a mild threat. Most people who contract it experience only mild symptoms, with the illness passing within a week, much like any other flu.

While there’s been a downgrading of H1N1’s impact, we’re still being told to take precautions, beginning with frequent hand-washing.

The Ontario Medical Association, which last week called on employers not to jam up the system with requests for sick notes, wants people to stay at home if they’ve got the flu. Requiring notes only forces sick people to go out in public, increasing the risk of spreading the virus. It also uses up already-taxed resources to little advantage.

“I can’t stress it enough going to work while sick is bad for you and potentially worse for your colleagues. Staying home to rest will help you to manage your illness and prevent others from getting infected,” said OMA president Dr. Scott Wooder. “Think about those around you, and please don’t take the flu to work.”

Children, seniors and those living with chronic diseases are more susceptible to the flu and are at a greater risk from its complications, the doctors stress. Following a few basic guidelines such as coughing and sneezing into an elbow, using hand sanitizer, and washing hands frequently will help prevent the flu.

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