H1N1 cases ‘tip of the iceberg’

Ten people with influenza have so far been hospitalized in Central Alberta.

Ten people with influenza have so far been hospitalized in Central Alberta.

H1N1, the 2009 pandemic flu, is the influenza A strain causing the most grief this season.

As of Dec. 28, there were 83 lab-confirmed flu cases in Alberta Health Services Central Zone, of which 79 were H1N1.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, a Central Zone medical officer of health, said those cases are likely the “tip of the iceberg” as most people do not get tested.

“Although the total number of cases of influenza is about the same as what we typically see in an average season, there are more cases that are sicker,” Hinshaw said on Tuesday.

“A number of the cases that required hospitalization have needed to be in ICU.”

Jason Resta, 40, of Sylvan Lake, visited his wife Candace, 31, in Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s ICU, where she was recovering from H1N1, on Tuesday.

She was admitted by ambulance on Dec. 24 and is still sedated to allow for a breathing tube.

“Her condition is stable. It’s just a question of time for her lungs to heal and her body to combat the virus. Most likely we’re looking at a month or two for sure,” Resta said.

He said both of them were battling the flu at the same time, but when he started to get better, she got worse.

Lab-confirmed flu in Central Alberta has jumped since Dec. 21, when there were 47 cases, the majority H1N1.

As of Dec. 28, across the province there were 662 lab-confirmed cases and 621 were H1N1.

Three deaths in the province have been attributed to the flu so far this season. None were from Central Alberta.

No outbreaks have been confirmed at local schools or nursing homes.

Hinshaw said H1N1, which is one of three strains included in this year’s flu vaccine, has been present during the typical flu season since 2009 but for some reason has become the dominate strain.

“What we’re seeing is those people who have been hospitalized, most of them did not have an influenza vaccine at all or they had started getting sick within two weeks of getting the vaccine.”

It takes two weeks to become protected after the vaccine is administered.

She said H1N1 affects young to middle-age adults more than seniors, who are typically the high-risk category.

Since there are more cases around, it’s spread is more likely, but it’s not too late to try to stay healthy by getting immunized, she said.

“Everyone in Central Alberta who hasn’t been vaccinated yet, we encourage them to go to their local public health unit.”

Mass immunization clinics have been set up elsewhere in Alberta to address the surge in cases, but in Central Alberta the demand has been manageable with the regularly scheduled clinics, Hinshaw said.

Resta said neither he nor his wife were immunized. It was suspected that their daughter had H1N1 in 2009 so the couple thought they were immune. As soon as he is healthier, Resta intends to get immunized — just in case.

The flu vaccine is available at Johnstone Crossing Community Health Centre on Jan. 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13 and 14. Call for an appointment.

Immunization is available on a drop-in basis at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre Fred Vincent Wellness Centre from 12:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28 and 29.

Some physicians and pharmacists also provide the vaccine.

The vaccine is free to all Albertans six months of age and older. A nasal spray is available for children age two to 17.

Alberta Health Services says those at risk for serious health problems from influenza are generally children younger than two and adults 65 and older; people with weakened immune systems; those with chronic illnesses such as heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes and cancer; and severely overweight individuals.