Alberta Health said Tuesday that nine people have died from the flu in Alberta as of Monday.
As well, 288 people in Alberta are hospitalized with the H1N1 virus, and 70 of those people are being treated in intensive care units across the province.
In the Central Zone, which includes Red Deer, as of Monday there are 190 confirmed cases of influenza, of which 165 are H1N1, with 24 of the total being hospitalized with the H1N1 flu. On Dec. 28, the Central Zone numbers were 83 confirmed cases of flu, with 79 being H1N1, and 10 in hospital.
Alberta Health said it would be able to break out the numbers of deaths and those in ICU by zone on Wednesday. Health officials have not confirmed if there were any deaths in Central Alberta, but rumours persist that one Central Albertan has died.
At a press conference on Monday, Dr. Jim Talbot, chief medical officer for Alberta Health estimated slightly higher numbers than what Alberta Health announced Tuesday evening.
Talbot said those who died were between 18 and 64. Many had underlying illnesses but some were young healthy adults.
Five people had died as of Jan. 1, three in Edmonton and two in Calgary.
H1N1, which is one of three strains included in this year’s flu vaccine, has been the dominant flu strain making some people sicker than usual. As during the 2009 pandemic, H1N1 is affecting more young to middle-age adults.
Talbot said the flu season is expected to peak in late January or early February.
“There was recent paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that showed that Alberta and then Saskatchewan are the places where flu tend to enter the country first,” Talbot said.
Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski said the increase in flu deaths was very concerning and urged people to wash their hands well, get immunized and don’t go to work sick.
“Practise the safety measures that we all know about,” Jablonski said on Tuesday.
Candace Resta, 31, of Sylvan Lake, is one flu patient who remains in Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s ICU battling H1N1.
She was admitted by ambulance on Dec. 24 and was still under sedation to allow for a breathing tube.
Her husband, Jason Resta, said there have only been minor improvements.
“Her condition is basically unchanged at the moment. She’s stable and everything, but not gaining any ground in the last few days,” said Resta on Monday.
“All of her vitals and everything are stable. It’s just a matter of time for her immune system to bolster up and be able to fight against it.”
Resta said his wife did not have any underlying health conditions that would make her more susceptible.
“Nobody plans for this sort of thing. You go for years and years — you get sick, you get better, you get sick, you get better. Then all of a sudden you get sick and you don’t get better.”
He said it could take weeks before she recovers.
Talbot said Monday over 23 per cent of Albertans were immunized so far this flu season and 33 per cent of immunizations have been done at pharmacies. People should call ahead to find out if vaccine is still available at their local pharmacy.
The province was assessing its vaccine supply after many Albertans got vaccinated after Health Minister Fred Horne encouraged people to get a flu shot on Friday.
“Lots of people got the message,” Talbot said.
Last February, the province ordered 1.1 million doses and will soon be getting surplus supply from Italy that Talbot said was “the last vaccine on the planet.”
“The ministry was very aggressive in making sure we secured it for Albertans,” Talbot said.
A decision will be made on whether to limit immunizations to mass clinics to make it more accessible for the public.
Doug Higham, pharmacy manager at London Drugs in Red Deer, said his pharmacy ran out of vaccine on Friday after a surge in requests last week.
“We’re probably averaging about 40 phone calls a day about it,” Higham said on Tuesday.
“Right now we’ve run out of vaccine and we’re waiting to see if Alberta Health will get us any more.”
For more information of immunization clinics, visit www.albertahealthservices.ca.