An Okanagan woman in her 50s is dead after contracting the H1N1 influenza virus, a spokesperson for Interior Health has confirmed.

This is the first death related to the H1N1 virus in the Okanagan this flu season. It follows another death in December on Vancouver Island that Island Health officials said was related to H1N1, as well as other contributing factors.

Dr. Rob Parker, medical health officer with Interior Health, said he couldn't give any more details about the victim out of respect for the family's right to privacy.

"I think the main learning is that influenza is circulating widely and there's still time for people to get their flu shot if they haven't had it yet," said Parker.

Parker says the number of confirmed cases of H1N1 in the interior is now up to 35, as the virus continues to surge across the province.

An earlier death in the Lower Mainland was thought to have been caused by the H1N1 virus, but as of Tuesday, Fraser Health had not confirmed a connection.

Speaking on Friday, Dr. Paul Van Buynder, Chief Medical Officer for Fraser Health, said at least 20 people in B.C. are in intensive care, some of them on ventilators, because of the H1N1 flu virus.

Van Buynder said medical officials are seeing small pockets of H1N1 breaking out across the region, in a pattern mirroring the flu's spread in Alberta, Ontario and Texas. 

The ages of the patients with confirmed cases of the H1N1 flu range from the very young to the elderly, and include those in their 30s. While the number of flu cases in B.C. is not unusual, people are still being urged to take precautions and get vaccinated.

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Perry Kendall expects there will be more fatalities before the flu season is over.

"It's still the case the majority of folks who have died have had one of the recognized underlying conditions that do make people more vulnerable, but I think a small number of them have also been previously healthy adults," he said.

Kendall said the province bought a record 1.4 million vaccines this year and recommends everyone — young, old, healthy or otherwise — to get the shot.

CBC