Turning the corner on H1N1

Rob Antle
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Some positive signs as province deals with flu

There are some signs the province could be turning the corner in dealing with the H1N1 virus, as school absentee rates approach normal levels and vaccinations continue to progress.

Beginning Thursday and Friday, needles will be given to students in Grades 7-9. Next week -assuming the province gets the amount of vaccine it is expecting - vaccinations will start for high-school students.

Newfoundland and Labrador's Minister of Health and Community Services, Jerome Kennedy, and the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Faith Stratton, provide an H1N1 update during their daily media briefing Monday afternoon. - Photo by Joe Gibbon

There are some signs the province could be turning the corner in dealing with the H1N1 virus, as school absentee rates approach normal levels and vaccinations continue to progress.

Beginning Thursday and Friday, needles will be given to students in Grades 7-9. Next week -assuming the province gets the amount of vaccine it is expecting - vaccinations will start for high-school students.

"So it's quite possible that by the end of next week we could have all of our schoolchildren vaccinated," Health Minister Jerome Kennedy said at a media briefing Monday afternoon.

He said health authorities also hope to have completed vaccinations within a couple of weeks for people younger than 65 suffering from chronic medical conditions.

Kennedy acknowledged there is some confusion over what can be considered a chronic medical condition, citing diabetes, bowel disease and cancer as qualifying. He said the issue "has to be looked at with a degree of common sense."

And Kennedy hinted that controls will be loosened on who is eligible.

"Although we're still trying to prioritize and we're still trying to, I guess maintain crowd control is one way to put it, it's not going to be as restrictive as it has been in the past, if you have a chronic medical illness and you can satisfy the people who are screening that is in fact the case," he said.

To date, H1N1-related complications have claimed the lives of seven people in Newfoundland and Labrador. Most of those patients suffered from underlying health conditions.

As of Monday, there were 17 new admissions across the province in one 24-hour period. Two of those patients were in intensive care; one was on a ventilator.

All told, there were 119 people in hospital Monday with suspected - but not all confirmed - cases of the swine flu. Twenty of them were in intensive care, 14 still on ventilators.

Those numbers are all lower than a week ago.

Does that mean the province is past the worst of this wave for H1N1?

"Well, one could be optimistic and say that we're certainly hoping that we've seen the peak of it now," said chief medical officer of health Dr. Faith Stratton.

Another positive indicator, according to Stratton, is that a lower percentage of laboratory specimens is now testing positive for the swine flu virus.

"So that's good news as well," she said.

And school absentee rates have rebounded to near-normal levels.

On Monday, fewer than one in 10 students were absent from class.

At the peak, on Nov. 3, more than triple that number stayed home.

While delivery of the H1N1 vaccine continues to roll out, there will still be a waiting period for everybody who wants the needle to get it.

"Realistically in this province, and in other provinces, it looks to be before Christmas or mid-December at the earliest before everyone will be vaccinated," Kennedy noted.

rantle@thetelegram.com




INDIVIDUALS ELIGIBLE FOR THE H1N1 VACCINE IN NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

As of Monday, the full list of individuals eligible for the H1N1 vaccination included:
Children six months to 59 months (up to fifth birthday);
People from five years of age to and including age 65 with chronic medical illnesses, including respiratory disease, diabetes, cardiac disease, blood disorders, bowel disease, etc.;
School-aged children from kindergarten to Grade 9;
Pregnant women;
Parents or other primary care providers (up to two per child) of children younger than six months and of immuno-compromised individuals (up to and including 65 years of age) who cannot themselves be vaccinated;
Pre-transplant patients on a wait list and all post-transplant patients (such as organ and stem cell transplant);
Individuals of all ages currently receiving hemodialysis.
Source: Department of Health

Geographic location: NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

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