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Dozens hospitalized with ‘severe’ H1N1 flu across region

By David P. Ball, 24 hours Vancouver



The Lower Mainland is grappling with a surge in H1N1 flu cases since Christmas, with many residents avoiding medical care until it's too late, according to Fraser Health's chief medical officer.

“It's important not to soldier on and go to work, you'll spread it to everyone else,” Dr. Paul Van Buynder told 24 hours. “If you start to feel very terrible, please seek medical care.”

B.C. hasn't reached the same deadly levels as Alberta or Toronto, Dr. Van Buynder said, but he is surprised by the severity of those hospitalized here.

In Fraser Health facilities, from Burnaby to Hope, at least a dozen have been forced into intensive care units, and officials suspect at least one death from the outbreak.

“We're starting to see some very severe cases,” Dr. Van Buynder said. “We've got 12 to 15 people who are on ventilators to get enough oxygen to keep their body going.”

Vancouver Coastal Health said it's seen five children and 20 adults hospitalized since Christmas. Providence Health Care reported seven cases. That compares to at least five Albertans who died from the strain this winter, in a province facing 920 cases. Toronto saw two H1N1 deaths, although other forms of influenza killed four others this season.

“We're actually not doing better than the rest of Canada overall,” Van Buynder said. “In the last two weeks, we're starting to see an uptick in activity, we're actually seeing more activity than on the East Coast.”

According to B.C. Centre for Disease Control's figures released Thursday, the number of respiratory patients with influenza rose to 42% from 17% a month before. But fewer of them are being hospitalized here, Van Buynder said, with many opting to stay in the community and take their chances.

“Most people will get better, but if you have any other condition – if you've already got asthma, a heart problem or are very overweight – you can become severely ill with this virus,” he said.

According to the Canadian Lung Association, in addition to usual flu symptoms – fever, cough, body aches, and nausea – severe signs include difficulty breathing, chest or stomach pain, seizures and discoloured lips.




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