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Local medical health officer says don't rush to vaccinate healthy kids



The Whistler region's Medical Health Officer, Dr. Paul Martiquet, is not advocating that all healthy children get the flu shot after the recent death of a child in the Lower Mainland was linked to influenza.

"I haven't vaccinated my children simply because the risk is not high enough at the present time to vaccinate healthy children," he said.

"Some parents feel differently. Some parents will... recognize that children are coming down with the disease and want to have their children protected against it and that's a choice I would support. But I don't recommend at all that parents have their healthy children immunized."

Parents with children who have chronic illnesses like asthma, diabetes, cancer or heart and lung conditions should consider the vaccinations.

The A/Fujian virus, which is the strain responsible for the recent flu outbreak in B.C., hit particularly hard and early this year.

Martiquet said there is no clear answer why the virus hit early and why it is affecting school-age children in particular.

"It's definitely higher than usual incidents but it's not anywhere near epidemic proportions," said Martiquet. "It's simply not virulent enough to gain that status.

"In a way we're lucky that this virus is not more virulent so we're not looking at a sort of a pandemic situation that is predicted in the next five to 10 years."

One reason the flu might be taking a higher toll this year is that the Fujian strain wasn't directly covered in this year's flu vaccine. There is some cross coverage from the flu shot but not as much as if the Fujian strain had gone directly into the mix. Martiquet said that is something health officials will be looking at next year.

The flu shot, however, is not foolproof and ordinarily it is effective in 70 to 90 per cent of healthy young adults.

Locally the flu virus was injected into 360 people who qualify for the free shot. They include anyone over 65 years old, people with serious illnesses and health care workers, among others. The shot costs $20 for people who do not fall into the high-risk categories.

In the meantime the key thing to remember about the flu is that it is a respiratory disease. Martiquet recommends that anyone with a fever and bad sore throat and a cough should go to the family doctor for a throat swab to see if it's influenza or not.

"Influenza itself usually isn't the worst part of the disease," he said.

"What it does is it weakens your immune system so you're laid prone to secondary infections such as a bacterial pneumonia, and that's basically the concern that we have for influenza."

Last week health officials in the Lower Mainland confirmed that a seven-year-old Vancouver girl died from an inflammation of the heart muscle, a rare complication from the flu.

Martiquet said there are signs that this first wave of flu is receding but there could be another wave later in the season.

Hand washing is key to stopping the disease from spreading, and staying home when you're sick helps limit the exposure of people to the virus.

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