Swine flu outbreak reaches Canada

ELIZABETH THOMPSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:12 PM ET

OTTAWA – The first six cases of a mysterious new flu were confirmed in Canada yesterday as the United States moved to declare a national health emergency.

While the six reported cases in Canada and the 20 cases reported in the U.S. of what has been dubbed swine flu were considered mild, authorities are concerned we could be seeing the beginning of something that could get much worse.

“Just because so far we have seen relatively mild, typical influenza symptoms...it doesn’t mean that we won’t see either more severe illness or potentially deaths,” said Dr. David Butler-Jones, chief public health officer of Canada.

“No one should lull themselves into thinking that everything is just fine because it’s a relatively mild disease. We can’t say that forever but we are doing everything to minimize that impact.”

In Mexico, swine flu has taken a heavy toll, making hundreds sick and killing an estimated 81 people.

In Canada, public health officials tried to walk a fine line yesterday, calling on Canadians to be vigilant and take precautions while also urging them not to panic.

The reason the H1N1 swine flu virus has experts so concerned is that it appears to be a mixture of flu viruses that they’ve never seen before. It is spreading from human to human and is cropping up in countries around the world.

While most flu viruses hit the very young and the very old the hardest, this one seems to be affecting young adults more than normal, said Dr. Kirsty Duncan, Liberal MP and one of Canada’s foremost experts on influenza pandemics.

“I think it is very concerning for everyone.”

As Canadian researchers race to learn more about the new flu virus and develop a vaccine, public health officials are taking steps to control its potential spread.

At airports, passengers heading to or from Mexico will be handed a pamphlet, advising them what they should do if they experience symptoms of the flu. Border officers will be on the lookout for passengers displaying symptoms such as fever or coughing. Some passengers have been referred for medical checks, said officials.

However, there are no plans to bring back the temperature scanners used during the SARS epidemic, said officials, explaining they weren’t very effective.

At press conference after press conference yesterday, public health officials outlined measures Canadians can take to avoid catching the flu and what to do if they start to show symptoms.

The biggest outbreak of cases is in Nova Scotia, where four teenagers aged 12-17 from King’s Edgehill School have been diagnosed with the virus.

The outbreak originated with a class trip down to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico earlier this month. Several students experienced flu symptoms after they returned but they were so mild that they didn’t raise any concerns.

Headmaster Joseph Seagram said 17 students and four staff members are in isolation — either at the school or at home. The school’s website shows many of its normal extracurricular activities have been cancelled.

In British Columbia, two separate cases of the flu have been identified — both in people who had visited Mexico. Both patients have mild cases, said Dr. Danuta Skowronski of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control,

“This swine influenza virus does not automatically mean hospitalization and death...This is not necessarily scary monsters.”

elizabeth.thompson@sunmedia.ca


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