Flu cases down in N.L., but it's still early, minister warns
Single, flu-related death was person over the age of 16
The number of flu cases reported this season in Newfoundland and Labrador is down significantly compared to last year, the province's health minister said Thursday.
So far this flu season 151 cases of influenza A have been reported, compared to more than 700 by this time last year.
There has also been one flu-related death, compared to nine at this point last year, but Susan Sullivan said there were "complicating factors" involved. She declined to provide details about the person who has died, citing privacy issues and out of respect for the family.
But she did confirm the person was over the age of 16.
"Certainly, in terms of flu activity, we're seeing a lower number of cases that are being diagnosed," Sullivan said while providing an update Thursday.
She also noted that additional testing has been done on about 60 of the 151 cases to date, and all have been confirmed as being the H1N1 strain.
Sullivan said it's hard to say why the number of flu cases is so much lower this year.
"We'll, we're still fairly early into our flu season, so we may see more yet," she said. "The flu is cyclical from one year to the other, so you never know. And this year the dominant strain happens to be H1N1."
Sullivan does believe education and awareness campaigns over the past few years have helped.
"People understand the clean, cover and contain campaign. And I think as a result of all of the immunization that we have done over the last four or five years, we're seeing differences."
Meanwhile, the minister dismissed suggestions that there's a shortage of vaccine, as well as criticism by the Opposition Liberals that the government was caught unprepared for the demand.
"I don't know how the Opposition would have been able to predict which strain of flu would be the predominant one this year," she said. "The public health agency of Canada can't predict it. There are three viruses within this strain of influenza A, so you never know which one it will be."
"We're not in any shortage. We have extra vaccine. About 2,500 extra doses arrived Wednesday, another 16,000 more are coming by the weekend, and we have an order in for more that will net us up to about 80,000. So we feel quite secure that we have the amount of vaccine that will be necessary to meet the interest and demand that's there."
Sullivan chalked up this year's rush for the vaccine to high numbers of recent flu cases and related deaths in Alberta.
Meanwhile, the province continues to target high risk groups such as children between the ages of six months and five years, as well as pregnant women, for immunization.
Two clinics have been scheduled for this weekend; on Saturday at Mount Pearl Square from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sunday at the Eastern Health building on Cordage Place in St. John's, from 1-4 p.m. A flu clinic scheduled for Monday at Mount Pearl Square has been cancelled.
"After we feel we've met that need, then we'll open the door to other age groups as well," Sullivan said.