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Doctors predicting nasty flu season



Whistler immunization programs underway

It’s going to take more than a few aspirin and bowls of chicken noodle soup to stay healthy this flu season.

According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, early indications are that it is going to be a rough year. They have already ordered 800,000 doses of vaccine to help high-risk people fight this year’s common flu bugs, including a potentially dangerous form of the A-Panama influenza virus.

"The strain circulating is an A-Panama influenza… and that subtype is always nastier than the others. It has circulated before, but never the dominant strain," says Dr. Danuta Skowronski of the BCCDC. "In 2000 and even last year influenza ‘B’ was predominating, and influenza B is kind of boring actually, milder than influenza ‘A’…and subtypes."

Isolated cases and a few small outbreaks of Panama-A have already been reported in Ontario, months earlier than expected.

"Things usually don’t get going until November and peak around Christmas," says Dr. Skowronski. "We usually start immunizing after thanksgiving, but for us to have outbreaks already is really early."

No cases have been reported in the west as of yet, and if the vaccination program is a success Dr. Skowronski believes that a potentially bad flu season could be nipped in the bud before it becomes serious.

The medical community typically watches what’s happening in the southern hemisphere to determine what strains of the flu virus are in circulation, and early signs have led doctors to take a cautious approach. While the flu season was mild in developed countries like Australia, a full A-Panama outbreak on the island of Madagascar claimed hundreds of lives.

"We’re not saying this to scare the living bejeezus out of people, we’re saying this because there is something people can do," says Dr. Skowronski.

The vaccine that was prepared for this winter includes Panama-A among other common strains of flu.

High risk groups, including seniors, people with heart and lung conditions, and people who have compromised immune systems for any reason, are advised to get their free vaccination. Health care professionals and emergency first responders also receive free vaccine.

"The rest of us have to buy it, but it’s really the best thing you can do," Dr. Skowronski says.

For most healthy people, A-Panama will seem like any other flu bug, although it might hit a little harder and stick around a little longer. It poses its greatest risk to people who are vulnerable or have chronic health problems going into the cold and flu season.

Whistler is also gearing up for the flu season.