Canadians need better flu education, says new head of doctors group

SASKATOON — The incoming president of the Canadian Medical Association says Canadians need to be better educated about flu symptoms ahead of a possible resurgence of the H1N1 virus this fall.

SASKATOON — The incoming president of the Canadian Medical Association says Canadians need to be better educated about flu symptoms ahead of a possible resurgence of the H1N1 virus this fall.

Dr. Ann Doig says the pandemic is “front of mind” for physicians, who are in Saskatoon for their annual meeting. She says there is a lot of information available to doctors through local health regions, but the public needs to be given more as flu season approaches.

“Inevitably with something like this, there is a panic,” says Doig, who has been practising family medicine in Saskatoon for 30 years.

“It’s no different than in the summertime when we always see people who think they might have Lyme disease or think they might have West Nile. And really, when you listen to their description of their symptoms, very, very frequently the symptoms that they’re worried about have absolutely nothing to do with the disease that they’ve identified as being their concern,” she says.

“The same is true for the flu. We don’t want people to be given misinformation about influenza.”

As of last Wednesday, the number of deaths officially associated with the swine flu virus in Canada stood at more than 65, although health officials say most people with H1N1 suffer only mild illness.

Late last month, the Public Health Agency of Canada released new guidelines for front-line health workers to help contain and prevent the spread of H1N1.

The recommendations include such measures as removing toys and magazines from waiting rooms, screening for swine flu during 911 calls and keeping emergency room patients in separate rooms if they exhibit respiratory symptoms.

Doig, who officially becomes the medical association president this Wednesday, says there needs to be a “clearly articulated” public education program so patients can make informed decisions around such things as going to work or going to school.

The information also needs to make it clear about when people should seek medical attention and where they should go, she says.

There are concerns that doctors’ offices could be overwhelmed.

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who is scheduled to speak at the doctors’ meeting Monday, told The Canadian Press that Ottawa will be “upping the advertisements and campaigns” on H1N1 as flu season approaches this fall.

But Aglukkaq also believes that the average Canadian has been getting appropriate information since the virus was found in April.

“As we’ve discovered more about H1N1 through the WHO, that information has been communicated to Canadians, to all the chief medical offices in every single province, to the ministries in every province,” said Aglukkaq.

“I come from an isolated community of 1,000 people and everyone is aware of H1N1,” she said. “I think there’s enough information out there.”

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