There have been five flu-related deaths in Alberta since Jan. 1, Alberta Health Services said Thursday, as officials urged people who haven’t been immunized to get a flu shot promptly.
Two of the people who died were in Calgary; three were in Edmonton. AHS said four of the five people had not been immunized, and one–a child–had received only one of two doses. Two patients were under 18 years of age; two were 65 and older, and one was between 18 and 64.
“This is a reminder that even though most people recover from influenza that people can still be extremely sick from it,” Dr. Martin Lavoie, acting chief medical officer of health, said. “Influenza can cause severe disease and also can cause, and does cause, deaths every single year.”
AHS senior medical officer of health Dr. Gerry Predy said the province is in the early stages of an “influenza outbreak” amid 84 hospitalizations and 283 lab-confirmed cases of the flu.
“Even if we get through this outbreak, I think people need to understand the influenza season in this province lasts until the end of April and often we get more than one outbreak. So we have an outbreak now, but even if it ends, we could get another one.”
The message to Albertans?
“It’s a serious illness, it causes people to get very sick, kills people and it’s preventable,” Predy stressed.
“Here’s a preventable disease that people aren’t taking advantage of preventative measures.”
Health officials said at this point last year, there were 30 deaths, but cautioned against comparison since last year’s outbreak was earlier and this year’s outbreak has only just started.
Lana Munroe said she is immunized but her four-year-old daughter Ruby has not been.
“I think probably it’s fallen through the crack this year. Sometimes I think it just slips your mind when other things are going on,” she said.
But when she heard about the deaths, especially the one involving a young child, Munroe said she plans to take action.
“I think I’ll take her to get her shot or the sniff one,” she said.
Pharmacist Anil Goorachurm said interest in the vaccine spiked in October but then fell by the end of the year, adding he does not know why there was a decrease in demand.
But he added that there appears to be a resurgence now.
“A lot of people, they’ve had the flu over the Christmas holiday. They didn’t take the time to get the flu shots. We’re seeing people having a little bit more time,” he said.
Goorachurm said the signs and symptoms of the flu are fever, muscle ache, joint aches, sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes.
He said people can protect themselves by washing their hands often, coughing into their sleeve and getting vaccinated.
WATCH: Dr. Marcia Johnson, Edmonton zone officer of health for AHS, joined the Morning News to talk about the importance of the flu vaccine.
Albertans can find local AHS influenza immunization clinic schedules online, or by calling Health Link at 811.
“Everybody is at risk of contracting influenza and getting very sick from it, and including also severe complications,” Lavoie said. “Even very healthy people can get sick and die. We see it less frequently, but it is actually a possibility.”
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