The flu and you

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Flu vaccines are running low, and there’s already been one death in this province from the dreaded H1N1 virus.

Put that way, that sort of news could generate a lot of panic. Fortunately, most reports are a little less fear-inducing.

This week, The Telegram has been keeping citizens up to date on the latest flu season. Typically, flu cases rise and fall twice a year.

On Wednesday, Eastern Health confirmed one death from H1N1, the so-called “swine” flu that made its debut with great fanfare in 2009. At the time, it was declared a pandemic, having spread quickly to almost every corner of the world and causing thousands of deaths.

But as officials pointed out Tuesday, there were nine deaths from H1N1 by this time last year in the province. The virus is now considered one of the regular seasonal viruses, and is one of a handful of strains covered in this year’s shots.

A Canadian Press explainer this week asked an interesting pair of questions: “Is this season shaping up to be a dismal flu season? Or do we, as a society, tend to forget what influenza can do from one season to the next?”

The answer, predictably, is the latter.

So far, this has not been a particularly nasty flu season in Canada, certainly not as bad as last year, when the H3N2 bug dominated.

This year, the predominant virus appears to be H1N1. The number of cases may have already peaked in Alberta, whereas this province may not yet have seen the worst of it.

Here’s how flu expert Dr. Allison McGeer of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto sums it up: “It’ll be over in a month.

There’s been a fair amount of activity, but it’s not terrible. And that should be it.”

A shortage of flu vaccine across the country earlier this week — including in this province — was precipitated largely by an increase in demand. That’s a good thing, because greater vaccine participation not only reduces the risk for individuals, but for communities as a whole.

On Thursday, Eastern Health announced it had managed to line up 80,000 more vaccine doses for Newfoundland and Labrador; they’ll be doled out over the next three weeks.

New statistical modelling suggests as many as 2,500 people in Canada die each year from flu-related complications. (That number actually ranges from 2,000 to 8,000 depending on underlying assumptions.) This may seem alarming, but it’s nowhere near the mass epidemics that occurred before vaccinations came on scene.

So, what does it mean for you?

If you’re in a high-risk category, get a flu shot. If you’re a nurse, teacher or someone else working daily with vulnerable groups, it’s also a wise idea.

Apart from that, cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands often and don’t think about it too much.

Organizations: The Telegram, Canadian Press, Mount Sinai Hospital

Geographic location: Canada, Alberta, Toronto Newfoundland and Labrador

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