There are now 85 laboratory-confirmed cases of H1N1 in the South Zone. Less than two weeks ago, this zone had 10 people hospitalized for H1N1 and there were only 36 confirmed cases.
“This is quite unique this year, and similar to the pandemic year 2009/2010, where we saw primarily the influenza A H1N1 virus circulating,” said Dr. Vivien Suttorp, Medical Officer of Health for AHS South Zone, adding the demand for vaccine has risen drastically since Christmas. “At this point in time, because there’s been a large increase in demand over the last two or three weeks as people are recognizing that there’s this influenza A H1N1 strain, there’s been more demand for vaccine. We’ve been able to manage the demand over the last number of weeks even with the increased requests. We do need to very carefully manage the vaccine supply.”
The AHS South Zone includes Oyen, Bassano, Brooks, Taber, Vauxhall, Picture Butte, Granum, Blairmore, and areas south and east including Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.
Officials from AHS refused to confirm a report an individual infected with the influenza A H1N1 strain had been positively identified in Taber. Across the province there are now 1,430 influenza laboratory-confirmed cases. Of that number 1,287 are H1N1, 14 are H3N2 and 129 have not been typed.
The death toll across the province for H1N1 cases stands at nine and one from Avian flu. A total of 955,000 people have been immunized across the province, including 150,000 in the last week alone.
“I thank Albertans for responding to the call to get the flu shot. Thanks to the efforts of our immunization teams we have been able to vaccinate more people to date this year than during all of last year,” said Health Minister Fred Horne.
An additional 65,000 doses of vaccine were received in the province last week. Horne said this was the last available “on the planet” for this flu season.
Vaccines currently in pharmacies and doctors’ offices will remain there but when that supply is depleted it will not be replaced.
The 65,000 doses will be distributed to AHS public health clinics. This decision was made by an expert working group, made up of senior medical directors, medical officer of health and an ethicist, said Dr. James Talbot, chief medical officer of health.
At least one pharmacy in the province had an independent supply of flu vaccine and was charging customers $20 for this. Talbot noted there are people who would not qualify for flu vaccine under Alberta Health and that is the reason pharmacies are allowed to have a small independent supply.
“Some pharmacies can purchase small quantities directly from the manufacturer,” said Horne. “I am looking into whether this is acceptable in terms of our agreement with pharmacies. We will look to see if there is a loophole there that needs to be closed.”
Talbot also urged Albertans to practise good hygiene, including frequent washing of hands, to protect themselves from becoming ill.
Alberta has spent nearly $8 million on flu vaccines and the average cost of treating a hospitalized person with influenza is about $17,000.
In spite of the numbers of H1N1 cases and the death toll, Talbot says, Alberta is still within the boundaries of a “normal” flu season.