Flu keeping B.C. kids home from school as virus season gets early start

VANCOUVER — More than one-third of the students at a downtown Vancouver elementary school were absent from class Wednesday, signalling an early start to the annual flu season in the westernmost province.

VANCOUVER — More than one-third of the students at a downtown Vancouver elementary school were absent from class Wednesday, signalling an early start to the annual flu season in the westernmost province.

And a health official said other schools and other provinces should be prepared to see the resurgence of the virus in the coming weeks.

“I’d be very surprised if, within a few weeks, we don’t start seeing cases all the way across Canada if we’re not seeing them now,” said Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.’s provincial medical health officer.

Kendall said health officials anticipated a resurgence of the virus once school resumed – schools are “Ground Zero” for virus and infections. Of the 329 students at Elsie Roy Elementary School in Vancouver, 113 stayed home with flu-like symptoms on Wednesday.

There were reports of a high absentee rate at a secondary school in east Vancouver and sporting and other events were cancelled after about a quarter of the students at Shawnigan Lake boarding school on Vancouver Island reported mild symptoms similar to swine flu, although tests were still pending.

“Whenever a school’s absentee rate exceeds 10 per cent, the Vancouver School District notifies Vancouver Coastal medical health officers and the public health officer can come in to investigate whether or not there is a common medical reason individuals are calling in sick,” said David Weir, communications director for the board.

In this case, the follow-up investigation included random testing of some of the absent students and their families to confirm whether it is H1N1. Test results were pending.

Kendall said public awareness campaigns have been a priority since the H1N1 virus first appeared last spring.

“I would also think that given that there’s a heightened sensitivity around this now, that people who might otherwise send their kids to school would be keeping them home because we did ask that kids who were sick with influenza-like symptoms were kept at home to try and prevent the spread.”

The clusters of H1N1 outbreaks signal an early start to the flu season, which normally doesn’t peak until February or March, Kendall said. It’s not clear why it’s resurging at this time.

“This is a novel virus,” he said

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