A recent increase in the number of people hospitalized due to the flu has caused people some concern.
Dr. Digby Horne, a medical officer with Alberta Health Services (AHS) Central Zone, said many of those people were sick with the H1N1 flu strain this season compared to last season with the H3N2 strain.
“The age group that’s been most severely affected with hospitalization has also changed a little bit,” explained Horne. “It seems to be more the young and middle aged adults.”
As of Jan. 8, there were 225 cases of central Albertans hospitalized because of the flu but there were no deaths. In the whole province, there were 363 hospitalized and eight deaths, which he believes is related to the flu. Of those hospitalized in the province, 29 received the flu shot.
These numbers are promising and show researchers that the flu shot appears to be working. “In general, the influenza vaccine is about 77 per cent effective in the young adults and when you get into the elderly population, it’s got about a 30 per cent efficacy.”
Planning what vaccines to put in the flu shot is difficult so producers will look at what type of flu was circulating last year and in the southern hemisphere. There are three strains in this year’s vaccine: H1N1, H3N2 and a B strain.
Complications from the flu can be severe for those who have other health issues. Some issues may include bacterial and viral pneumonia and those with underlying heart or lung disease should seek help if a problem continues.
Some patients who did take the influenza vaccine may still have contracted the flu but their symptoms were less than if they had not.
“That is supposed to be one of the advantages of getting the influenza vaccine that even though it’s not necessarily 100 per cent effective, if you do get infected, supposedly your symptoms might be a little milder,” explained Horne.
For those who did not get a flu shot, he suggests that staying at home may not be practical as the flu season will probably continue until March and possibly April. He feels influenza B and the H3N2 strains may linger. Horne suggests washing your hands and coughing into your sleeve to reduce the chance of infection.
Flu shots have been available in Ponoka since October but the worldwide demand became large enough to create shortages. Supplies of vaccine ran out in Alberta last week. This year’s strain of H1N1 is actually less severe than recent years, said Horne. “It’s not the threat that it used to be.”
This season appears to be milder than last with 363 hospitalized, compared to the same time last year with 742 cases. Although the number of deaths is still serious, with eight this year, last year at this time there were 37, explained Horne.