New Brunswick

H1N1 flu death of Fredericton woman sparks demand for flu shot

A 43-year-old Fredericton woman has died from complications arising from the flu, sparking a surge in demand for flu vaccinations across the province.

Shawna McNally, 43, died after contracting H1N1 flu strain

A 43-year-old Fredericton woman has died from complications arising from the H1N1 flu strain, sparking a surge in demand for flu vaccinations across the province.

Pharmacies and other providers are reporting that they've run out, or are close to running out.

Shawna McNally, 43, of Fredericton, died on Jan. 8 from complications arising from the H1N1 flu strain. (Courtesy of Britton Funeral Home)
But public health officials say more supplies are on the way and there is no need to be alarmed.

"It's important to recognize this is not a pandemic," the province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Eilish Cleary, stressed on Tuesday.

"It was quite a different situation when [H1N1] was a new virus introduced into the population, that we had never seen before, so there was no immunity in people, and we had no vaccine." she said. "We have that component in our vaccine this year."

Earlier in the day, Cleary announced influenza had claimed its first victim of the season.

The Horizon Health Network reported one death in the Fredericton area, Cleary had said.

"The one death was in a woman. I would say a woman who was in her mid-life. Young midlife, younger than I am so definitely too young to pass away," said Cleary.

The woman had an underlying health condition and would have been considered in the at-risk category, she said.

The identity of the woman was later confirmed by relatives as being Shawna McNally, 43.

New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Eilish Cleary, says the woman who died had an underlying health condition. (CBC)
​McNally, a mother and grandmother, died at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital on Jan. 8.

There is also one patient in the intensive care unit with the flu and another in hospital, said Cleary.

"So there is some severity," said Cleary. "We do see severe cases every year. That's not necessarily unusual."

Vitalité Health Network has not reported any severe cases, she said.

Because of the reports of H1N1 flu deaths elsewhere, the public health department had asked the province's two health authorities to report any severe influenza activity.

The flu strain involved was confirmed Tuesday as being H1N1, which is part of this year's flu vaccine.

Cleary is encouraging anyone who has not had this year's flu vaccine to get one.

"Vaccines do work very well. They don't prevent 100 per cent of cases in 100 per cent of people but they definitely do have a role in reducing the spread and reducing the rate of complications and can make the difference between life or death in people who are at high risk of complications."

While there's no need to panic about H1N1, it shouldn't be underestimated either, said Cleary.

Jonathan Stephenson, of Fredericton, says he didn't rush to get his flu shot, until the past few days.

"Especially when I heard on the CBC that somebody had died of the flu, I figured, I've got to get this done. I've got no choice," he said.

Rose-Anne DiGiacinto says the VON clinic has seen more calls since word of several deaths in Alberta earlier this month.

"We were three nurses, and in a few hours we went through giving 177 vaccinations last Wednesday," she said.

Rachel Madden went to the VON Tuesday to get an appointment for her daughter. Instead, she's on the waiting list.

"It's just worrisome that there are so many cases going around," she said.

Pharmacies have also seen a recent spike in calls, said Alastair Bursey, president of the New Brunswick Pharmacists Association.

"You're probably seeing some after-effect of that news," he said. "We're getting a lot of calls this morning and unfortunately we're pretty much out of vaccine right now, so we have to wait for a new order."

Shot free for some

Provincial officials say new stock should arrive within days. And even if people have to wait a few days, a flu shot is better late than never.

At-risk groups, such as children and the elderly, get the flu shot for free. Others pay $25.

Bursey says that given H1N1 can also affect younger, healthier people, the provincial government should look at covering the vaccine for everyone.

"So when you have strains like you did this year, when it's hitting not the typical group of patients, that's something we could look into and take care of," he said.

Cleary, however, says it's still more efficient to target high-risk groups.

"It's people in those categories who are getting severely ill, so what we want to do is maximize our use of the vaccine by making sure it's still focused on those groups," she said.

Shawna McNally, formerly of Mount Pleasant, is survived by two daughters, two stepsons and a granddaughter, as well as her partner, parents, sisters, nieces and nephews.

A funeral service will be held on Saturday.


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