January 7, 2014 11:58 am
Updated: January 7, 2014 12:16 pm

Alberta, Sask. severely hit by H1N1 flu so far, Canadian doctors say

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Watch the video above: Crystal Goomansingh’s report on H1N1 and 2014′s flu season

TORONTO – The H1N1 flu virus that caused a 2009 pandemic is back – and it’s already in full force across Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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Reports of widespread outbreaks, three deaths in Saskatchewan, two in Toronto and 10 in Alberta may cause alarm, but Canadian doctors say that aside from the odd reappearance of H1N1, this year’s flu season is turning out to be a “normal” year.

“If anything, it’s actually a little below what we normally see between Christmas and New Year’s – there are pockets of the country that are seeing a fair amount of flu right now, but even then it’s not hugely out of keeping with what we normally see,” Dr. Michael Gardam, director of infection prevention and control at University Health Network, told Global News.

READ MORE: What to expect from this year’s flu season

“The unusual thing is how dominated it is by H1N1. This year, for whatever reason in North America, H1N1 has come back with a vengeance,” he said.

Right now, flu trends point to B.C. and Alberta with “high” flu activity, with Saskatchewan logging “intense” influenza activity.

In the last two weeks of 2013, Public Health Agency of Canada records show that the flu “increased sharply,” especially in Calgary and Edmonton. Three regions in Ontario faced local outbreaks, along with six regions in Saskatchewan.

The rest of the country is not so exciting, at least not yet, according to Gardam.

READ MORE: Fraser Health says severe cases of H1N1 flu seen in Alberta popping up in B.C.

Unlike the past few flu seasons when Canadians grappled with H3N2 viruses, this year’s H1N1 appears to be hitting young people the most.

H3N2 and H1N1 are both Influenza A-type viruses, dubbed the “big bad one we always worry about,” according to Dr. Gerald Evans, a Queen’s University medicine professor and chief of infectious diseases at Kingston General Hospital.

“The only different thing is that it is still a relatively new strain compared to the other seasonal strains, and it still tends to go after a younger population,” Gardam said.

READ MORE: What you need to know about flu activity across Canada

Evans reminds Canadians – anyone under five years old may not have encountered H1N1 before, leaving them most vulnerable. Meanwhile, seniors may have come across H1N1 over the past few decades which means their immune system may be more familiar with the part bird, human and swine influenza.

Evans said that while Western Canada is rocked by H1N1, the rest of the country could see a steady climb in flu cases. Keep in mind, kids are just returning to school and they’re likely to spread the flu.

READ MORE: Should flu shots be mandatory for health care workers?

“The important thing for everybody to remember is that once the kids go back to school we’re going to see the dramatic increase in the spread of infection. It’s the kids in school who are the big amplifiers,” Evans said.

He warns that a “big upsurge” could be heading to Ontario and Quebec within the next two weeks.

The silver lining is that the H1N1 strain is part of the seasonal flu vaccine and it has been since 2009. If you got the vaccine in 2009, but haven’t kept up with flu shots, you won’t necessarily be protected, though.

READ MORE: Flu shot halves risk of heart attack or stroke in heart disease patients, Canadian study suggests

And if you haven’t rolled up your sleeve at a flu clinic, both Gardam and Evans suggest you do. Widespread activity is already underway in some parts of Canada but it could spread to other areas. And the flu season sometimes peaks twice.

“We may get a second peak, we may not, but it speaks to the idea of making it a habit to get the flu shot in November. Quit playing roulette with the flu,” Gardam said.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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