B.C. health officer hopeful that H1N1 virus has peaked in the province

VANCOUVER — When it resurged this fall, H1N1 hit Canada’s westernmost province first, and quickly reared its ugly head across the country.

VANCOUVER — When it resurged this fall, H1N1 hit Canada’s westernmost province first, and quickly reared its ugly head across the country.

Now health officials in other provinces might be hoping to follow in B.C.’s footsteps once again, after provincial health officials announced Thursday that the pandemic virus appears to be levelling off.

Vaccinations should continue as planned but provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall said the number of doctor and emergency room visits, testing requests and prescriptions for Tamiflu all appear to have hit a plateau.

And he said the number of people hospitalized with the virus has remained fairly steady for the last two weeks.

“Those are the kind of indications that we’re cautiously hoping would be signs of a levelling off,” Kendall said in a teleconference call Thursday to update the B.C. flu situation.

“They’ve sort of continued at that level; doesn’t mean to say that they mightn’t take off again, but we’re hopeful that they won’t.”

British Columbia was at the fore of the second wave of H1N1 that began after kids returned to school in September. Within days, other provinces were reporting cases of the virus.

The Public Health Agency of Canada had recorded 161 deaths due to the pandemic, 61 of them in Ontario, 35 in Quebec and 23 in B.C.

And there was no suggestion Thursday that health officials or the public should let down their guard.

Kendall said there may not be a third wave of the pandemic virus next spring, but that will depend on what happens right now.

“We don’t know if there will be one,” he said. “Previous pandemics have seen a third wave and it comes typically in the early spring.

“I would think that if we’ve got a good percentage of the population vaccinated, we won’t see a third wave or we won’t see much of a third wave.”

If the H1N1 virus is abating, it could take time for some provinces to see the drop. It was only Thursday that Manitoba’s health minister said the second wave of swine flu had hit the province.

Manitoba recorded its first death from the second wave of H1N1 this week.

Although a temporary shortage of flu vaccine forced some jurisdictions to close clinics, most provinces are expecting more vaccine to be in place next week and many expect to expand their immunization programs.

Winnipeg reopened its swine flu immunization clinics Thursday after closing them last Friday due to the shortage of the vaccine.

In Ontario, some regions are already providing immunizations to elementary and high school students and those 65 and over, and the province was expected to announce an overall expansion on Friday.

Flu clinics in Saskatchewan and Manitoba were opened to school children earlier this week.

Kendall said British Columbia has given priority to the most vulnerable people. The province will add children to the list soon, but they have shown lower risk of complications from the virus than other groups.

The death of a Richmond woman whose family said she was sent home from hospital prompted Kendall to reiterate that people with asthma should get a prescription for Tamiflu, so they can start the treatment as soon as they show signs of illness.

Asthma sufferers have been included in the priority groups for vaccine for the last three weeks, he said.

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