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the Ancient Americas => Canada: Past & Present => Topic started by: Bianca on May 01, 2009, 07:35:19 am

Post by: Bianca on May 01, 2009, 07:35:19 am

                                                     THE FLU OUTBREAK

                              Provinces release flu drugs as Canada ramps up response

                                     B.C. school closes after student contracts virus


With reports from

Karen Howlett
in Toronto,

Brian Laghi
in Ottawa,

Oliver Moore
in Halifax,

André Picard
in Montreal and

The Associated Press

The Globe And Mail
May 1, 2009

-- Provinces began to release their stockpiles of influenza treatments and a British Columbia school was the first in Canada to close its doors yesterday as the country braced for the potential onslaught of a global pandemic.

"We are all very concerned about the situation," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters in his first public comments on the disease that has placed international health authorities on high alert.

"At the same time, people should rest assured that governments around the world are responding to this in an appropriate and co-ordinated way. ... I believe we are doing what is necessary at the moment but this is a serious situation."

There were 15 new confirmed cases across Canada yesterday: five in B.C., four in Alberta, four in Nova Scotia, one in Ontario, and Quebec recorded its first. They bring the total number of diagnosed cases of the H1N1 virus in this country to 34, but doctors say many more people are suspected of having the disease.

 Beairsto Elementary, a French-immersion school in Vernon, B.C., with 540 children, is being closed for a week after one of its students returned from Mexico, developed mild symptoms, and was confirmed as one of the flu cases in the province.

Bob Peacock, the school superintendent for the district, said the girl went to the doctor and did not show up for school yesterday. The health unit contacted the board, which then closed the school at the end of the day.

Mr. Peacock expressed concern. "It's like head lice. As soon as you mention head lice everybody starts to scratch their head. When there's talk about swine flu and symptoms, you naturally start looking at folks differently when they cough," he said.

Across Canada, a pandemic response was being ramped up yesterday after the World Health Organization declared on Wednesday that there were strong signals of an imminent pandemic.

Unlike many other countries, Canada has what officials say are sufficient stockpiles of antiviral drugs to treat those who become ill and to bolster the immunity of people at risk.

The national antiviral stockpile of 55 million doses, made up of both Tamiflu and Relenza, has been distributed to provinces and territories on a per-capita basis and is being stored in undisclosed secure sites across the country. There are additional amounts being held in a national emergency stockpile to be used as backup.

"We are ensuring that the national antiviral stockpile can be mobilized as needed," David Butler-Jones, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, told reporters yesterday. It is up to each province to decide how, and to whom, it will be released.

Health officials in Saskatchewan began on Wednesday to distribute some of its stockpile of drugs to the province's regional health authorities and pharmacies.

There are no confirmed cases in that province, but "we did have some cases that were presenting with symptoms, so as we're moving along, physicians do have the authority to prescribe," said Karen Hill, a spokeswoman for the provincial Ministry of Health .

Other provinces have decided not to ship the drug at this time. Neither Ontario nor Manitoba, for instance, have moved their stockpiles, but both provinces say pharmacies within their jurisdictions have supplies.

In Nova Scotia, where eight children have come down with the disease, the stockpile has also not been distributed. But students at King's-Edgehill School in Windsor, which the children attended, have been treated.

Other schools and school boards across the country have started to look at ways to keep their students safe.

In Victoria, daily notices are being sent to parents about the flu situation and students are reminded to practise proper hygiene. The board brought in extra custodial staff to make sure door knobs, faucets and other heavily used items are kept clean. Hand sanitizers have been ordered for classrooms that don't have sinks.

"We certainly don't want them [students] panicked in any way. But we want them to be informed," said John Gaiptman, superintendent of schools for the Greater Victoria School District.

Health-care facilities are also stepping up their flu watch.

In many Toronto-area hospitals, for instance, triage nurses working in the emergency departments are wearing N95 respiratory masks. Posters at the doors of hospitals tell patients and visitors coming in with a new or worsening cough, fever or shortness of breath to identify themselves immediately to the triage nurse so they can be given a surgical mask

On a national level, Health Canada is planning to roll out a new awareness campaign today to alert Canadians to the symptoms of the new influenza and the precautions that should be taken.

The government has begun discussions with GlaxoSmithKline Inc., the pharmaceutical company that is under contract to make a vaccine should one be necessary.

Frank Plummer, scientific director of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, said yesterday that vaccine production is at a very early stage. The seed stock has been developed and scientists are now trying to grow it and determine its effectiveness.

The big difference between an ordinary influenza and a pandemic, said Dr. Butler-Jones, is not the severity of the disease but the numbers of people who could become ill.

According to Canada's Pandemic Influenza Plan, a federal plan on how to deal with wide-scale national outbreaks, a pandemic flu could kill between 11,000 and 58,000 Canadians in a period of about six to eight weeks. The disease could also result in the hospitalization of between 35,000 and 138,000 people and leave between 4.5 million and 10.6 million others too sick to work, which could have a devastating impact on the economy.

While the disease is mild at this point, Dr. Butler-Jones said no one can tell what the future will bring. Previous pandemics have appeared to die out with the approach of summer and then recurred with a vengeance with the return of cold weather.

"And that's why all of this preparation is needed, not only for today but to make sure that we don't have a bigger problem when and if it comes back in October or November," he said.

In Mexico, where there were 260 confirmed cases and 12 confirmed deaths as of yesterday, citizens have been urged to stay home until Tuesday in hopes of containing the outbreak.

"There is no safer place to protect yourself against catching swine flu than in your house," Mexican President Felipe Calderon said in a televised address Wednesday night.