Flu affecting young people in Comox Valley more than usual

Comox Valley influenza rates so far this season are similar to past years, though the age of those most affected is younger, according to North Island medical health officer Dr. Charmaine Enns.

"We're still seeing an increase in influenza activity (this season)," Enns said Friday, as she explained the season's peak has not yet hit. "While we're seeing increasing rates it's still all within the expected range, it's not anything outside of the ordinary; this is what we normally see."

However, Enns added the predominant strain of the influenza virus in circulation this year is H1N1, which affects people under the age of 65 more severely.

"About two-thirds of our hospital admissions for influenza have been the otherwise younger adults, not the seniors," she said.

"Normally, we work really hard to get the message out about the vulnerability of the over-65 (age group). But, it seems this year they actually have better immunity to what's circulating, probably because of many years of exposure to influenza over their lifetime, and plus the many years that they have received the vaccine for protection."

Though the virus strains change subtly each year, Enns pointed out this year's H1N1 strain is very closely related to the pandemic strain that hit in 2009. This year's vaccine protects against H1N1 and other strains of the virus.

Enns added annual vaccines build up to fight the virus as it changes over time, so people should be getting vaccinated every year at the beginning of the season to best prevent influenza.

Common influenza symptoms are a cough, fever and muscle pains. Besides getting the vaccine, Enns says hand-washing and staying home when sick are very important influenza control methods.

The vaccine is free for those considered at-risk for complications from the virus and their caregivers, including young children, people older than 65, those with chronic health conditions and pregnant women. While influenza can keep a healthy person in bed for a week, it can cause severe health complications and death for at-risk individuals.

This year has seen high vaccination rates on Vancouver Island, added Enns, and while that's a good thing, it also means vaccine stocks are lower, and could run out.

"Our vaccine supplies do have a finite end point; we only have so much vaccine," she said. "We have used more vaccine than we have used before so we are starting to have to move our vaccine around the Island to make sure everybody who wants it is still getting it."

She added some vaccine providers that would normally have the vaccine could be out of it now in the Valley.

"We're working at distributing it so that everybody who needs it still gets it, but it's not unreasonable to think we could use up our supply if the demand continues like it is," she said, adding anyone thinking of getting vaccinated should do so quickly if they want to ensure they can.

For more information about the flu, including the vaccine, visit

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Although Alberta is home to the first death due to H5N1 in North America, Comox Valley residents do not need to be concerned for their safety, according to North Island medical health officer Dr. Charmaine Enns.

An Alberta woman died Jan. 3 in Alberta after flying back from Beijing, China, on Dec. 27. She stopped off in Vancouver for a few hours before boarding a connecting flight to Edmonton.

"Currently, there's no reason for concern in Canada," said Enns. "There has been no documented sustained human-to-human transmission; it's really hard to get H5N1, even from exposure to a bird."

She added the woman likely picked up H5N1 from an infected bird while in China.

The bird flu originated about 10 years ago, and there's been more than 650 cases over the decade in Eastern countries. The virus strain has a fatality rate of about 60 per cent.


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