The number of Albertans contracting the H1N1 virus is bound to increase in the fall, but it should continue to be a mild flu for most, says a local medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services.
“What is reassuring from a global perspective is that the virus has not changed. That was one of the original concerns, that the virus will mutate and become more aggressive,” said Gerhard Benade, with the central zone of AHS.
Predictions for fall and winter are based on the H1N1 experience in the southern hemisphere. According to the World Health Organization, H1N1 influenza is the most common circulating virus around, he said.
As of Friday, the number of hospitalized confirmed cases of H1N1 in Alberta climbed to 129, up one from a week ago.
Cases in Central Alberta have remained steady at seven.
Eight people have died in the province, including one in Central Alberta.
Benade said the virus continued to circulate in Alberta this summer and in the last few weeks the number of new cases has dropped.
But that could change now that school is in session, where the flu can easily spread as the weather gets colder.
“It seems to affect younger age groups,” Benade said.
“That may be the environment where we may see more readily transmission happening. It’s a concentrated number of individuals in confined spaces. And in winter time, people spend more time huddled together.”
Schools are well informed on how to reduce the spread of the flu and hospitals are also prepared for when people cannot fend off H1N1.
Hospital staff will separate flu sufferers from others in waiting areas, give them masks and regularly disinfect things like doorknobs, Benade said.
“Those measures have been done all along but as H1N1 has come along, those measures have been boosted and are being practised more aggressively to make sure that wherever the circumstances arise, that the chain of transmission is broken.”
The public should also do their part to stay healthy beyond proper flu etiquette like hand washing and covering their cough, he said.
“Improve your well-being. Exercise. Avoid smoking. Get enough sleep. Should you get sick — stay home. Phone HEALTHLink and chat it through with them.”
In rare instances of severe illness, people should call ahead to warn the hospital they are coming, Benade said.
“It’s out there, but there are lots of basic things people can do.”
Alberta Health Services has information posted on H1N1 at www.albertahealthservices.ca or call HEALTHLink Alberta at 1-866-408-5465.