Spike in serious flu cases prompts call for public to get flu shots

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A recent spike in influenza activity across the country is prompting Saskatchewan health officials to advise the public to get their flu shot.

The Cypress Health Region took the additional step of offering four additional flu clinics this week. Following today's well attended Swift Current clinic, flu clinics will now be offered on Wednesday in Shaunavon (Shaunavon Hospital and Care Centre, Public Health office from 9 a.m. to noon and again from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.) and Leader (hosted from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Leader Medical Clinic.). A fourth clinic will be offered in Maple Creek on Friday. The Jan. 10 clinic runs at the Maple Creek Hospital (Public Health office) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Saskatchewan Health has confirmed six influenza related deaths in the province according to data received as of Jan. 6, a jump from three which had been reported earlier in the new year. Provincial officials are now reporting 18 hospitalizations as a result of influenza, with this total jumping from seven less than a week ago. There are also now 336 laboratory confirmed influenza cases, over doubling the 161 confirmed cases previously reported.

Health officials have identified H1N1 as the predominant strain of influenza currently circulating, and children under five years of age as well as pregnant women, young and middle-aged adults are more likely to be susceptible to influenza.

“We are cautioning the public to be aware of this situation at this point in time and if you haven’t already done so, please contact Public Health to receive your influenza immunization,” commented Dr. David Torr, Consulting Medical Health Officer for the Cypress Health Region. “The cases that are being reported are very severe and H1N1 is already responsible for a number of deaths in Alberta this season.”

Even after the additional clinics, immunizations will continue to be available to the general public and can be received by contacting your local community’s public health office or by calling toll-free 1-866-786- 2510. You may also contact your family physician’s clinic regarding vaccine availability.

Currently, approximately 30 per cent of the health region’s residents have been immunized for influenza in 2013, leaving 70 per cent of the Cypress Health Region’s population un- immunized and at increased risk of contracting influenza.

Cypress Health Region CEO Beth Vachon highlighted the region's concerns over the low numbers of individuals being immunized this year during the Cypress Regional Health Authority's board meeting in December.

"Where we saw a really big uptake was the year of our pandemic," she explained of years when higher numbers of people were getting flu shots. "Where the H1N1 was circulating, there was lots of concern about what that might actually mean. So I would say this year was a really average year. That would have been our spike where we gave a lot more vaccine than we normally would have."

For health reasons, Vachon explained, the more people who get immunized the better it is for the entire population.

"So again, one of the things that we know is that if we have about 70 per cent of our population immunized, for those who don’t get immunized because of valid medical reasons or people who can’t take it, the reason you want to get to that number is that that helps them protect those people who can’t be immunized. So it is a concern when we have numbers of 25 or 30 percent of the general population. We know that doesn’t create the kind of immunity that’s required within a community to ensure that those who are vulnerable don’t get sick."

As flu cases are starting to show up more prominently, people who have had their flu shots will benefit.

"You can be immunized and still end up catching the influenza virus, but what we do know is that if you’ve been immunized, your severity of illness is quite a bit reduced. That is helpful. You also don’t shed as much of the virus that then passes on to other people, so it starts to limit that as well. Anybody who’s immunized, that’s a good thing in my mind. So we will encourage people to continue to be immunized, and continue to look for ways to make it easy for people to get immunized and make it convenient."

Vachon also countered the argument that immunizations are unnecessary or create other problems.

"Immunization is the first line of defence against diseases, that we have seen the eradication of many diseases. What’s more concerning though, is that when people aren’t up to date on their immunizations, we start to see disease circulating that we haven’t seen in many many years, and a prime example is measles. We’re seeing that again now starting to crop up, and that’s a result of immunizations not being up to date or people choosing not to immunize their children."

"We’re encouraging folks to look at the reputable information in making their decision. It’s everybody’s choice whether or not they choose to get immunized one way or another, but make that decision on good solid reputable information."

Organizations: Cypress Regional Health Authority, Cypress Health Region

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Swift Current, Shaunavon Maple Creek Alberta

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