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Okanagan flu season no worse than usual, except for H1N1 danger

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No new flu clinics are scheduled in the Okanagan, despite outbreaks in Alberta and the Fraser Valley.
Health officials are encouraging people to get their flu shots, but there's little cause for alarm in the Southern Interior. Medical health officer Dr. Sue Pollock is unaware of any influenza in residential-care homes or hospitals in the Interior Health region.
"(It) is unusual but very encouraging as well," she said Saturday. "We recommend people get their flu shot if they haven't already done so . . . for all age groups."
H1N1, the so-called swine flu that spawned hundreds of clinics in B.C. four years ago, has landed people in hospital in the Fraser Valley. More than a dozen patients are on ventilators, and health officers are seeing small pockets of "very severe disease," said Dr. Paul Van Buynder, Fraser Health's chief medical health officer.
Albertans have endured an increase in flu cases over the past few weeks. About 250 people have been hospitalized and five patients have died, said Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne.
In B.C.'s Interior, the number of flu cases this season is typical. What's different is the predominance of the H1N1 strain, which puts children under five as well as young and middle-aged adults at risk, said Pollock.
An estimated one in five British Columbians have gone for their flu shot. Younger adults are less likely to get vaccinated because they believe the risk isn't high. They may have had a flu shot in the past, but the vaccine provides only seasonal protection.
"You're not necessarily protected because of the waning immunity," Pollock said. "We'd recommend another flu shot."
Pollock knows of 30 lab-confirmed cases of the flu across the health region, about half of them due to the H1N1 strain and none of them severe.
They represent the tip of the iceberg because the patients approach their doctor and have a test done. Many people have the flu and manage their symptoms at home without seeing a physician.
One young Kelowna man recently developed pneumonia after coming down with the flu. He's now recovering at home. Health officers expect some patients to develop complications that may require hospitalization, said Pollock.
"Some people do die from influenza every year. For the younger population, that would be more unusual. If we see death, we typically expect to see it in older individuals."
The last flu clinic organized in the Okanagan was in late November. If there's enough demand from the public, IH will consider holding more, Pollock said.
Meanwhile, people wanting a flu shot should call their local pharmacy to see if the vaccine is available. If not, call your local health centre: 250-868-7700 in Kelowna, 250-980-5150 in West Kelowna, 250-770-3434 in Penticton, 250-546-2917 in Vernon and 250-404-8000 in Summerland.

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