By Nicole Obre
As the H1N1 flu virus continues to spread throughout B.C., health authorities are encouraging people to go out and get a flu shot. The virus initially began popping up in Alberta before the holiday season and has now become a reality in B.C.
“The influenza A virus, H1N1, was circulating in early December in Alberta. We weren’t really seeing it here [in B.C. yet], but certainly since Christmas we’ve started to see more influenza here, a lot of people travel back and forth over the holidays,” explained Dr. Rob Parker, senior medical officer with Interior Health. “This season so far, across the Interior Health region, we’ve had 45 confirmed influenza cases. Of those 45, roughly a third of them are in the East and West Kootenays, a third roughly in the Okanagan, and then a third in the Kamloops Thompson Caribou region.”
An Okanagan woman is the first confirmed B.C. death from H1N1 this flu season and Albert health officials have reported 10 H1N1 related deaths in the province.
“Everywhere in B.C. is getting infected by H1N1 and it’s on the rise, not only in the southern interior, but across B.C,” said Parker. “We are probably still a week or two away from the peak of influenza season so I expect we will see more and more people coming down with influenza.”
Although Parker said the ideal time to get immunized is in the fall, it is not too late to take the precaution. Anyone considered to be ‘at risk’, such as seniors, pregnant women, young children, and people with chronic health conditions, can receive the flu shot for free.
“Any adults, especially working adults in the 20 to 54 year-old age range, if they have one of the chronic health conditions that puts them at risk, I really encourage them to come in, because what we’re seeing in B.C. is that H1N1 affects working adults a lot,” commented Parker. “That’s probably the biggest age group affected, they don’t have as much immunity to this virus.”
He went on to say, “I actually recommend it to all working age adults, even if they have to pay for it, because to me it’s just good, cheap health insurance. It’s like putting snow tires on your car in the winter. It really reduces your risk of coming down with influenza. Even if you get the flu shot and you come down with influenza, it’s a much milder disease than not having the shot.”
The flu shot is updated yearly to include the current viruses that are circulating. This year’s vaccine contains three different flu strains: A/California/7/2009 (H1N1), A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2), and B/Massachusetts/2/2012.
Interior Health receives approximately 190,000 doses of the vaccine in the fall and roughly 95 per cent of that stock has already been given out. As it takes roughly two weeks after receiving the shot to receive full immunity, Parker advises everyone who hasn’t already been immunized to do so as soon as possible.
Anyone who falls into an at risk category can call their local health unit office to arrange an appointment. People not eligible for a free flu vaccine can purchase the shot through a medical clinic or pharmacy. The price varies, but usually falls into the range of $20 to $30.
For more information on the flu vaccine and to find out if you are eligible to receive it for free, go to www.interiorhealth.ca.