There has been a "surge" in the number of people requiring intensive care in Manitoba hospitals with flu-like illnesses, the province said Monday.
As of Sunday night, there were 26 such people in hospital -- more than half of them aboriginal. All were or had been on ventilators due to influenza or of an influenza-like illness. Eight persons with severe cases required hospitalization in the past week alone.
Joel Kettner, chief provincial public health officer, said Monday "most if not all" of the cases are expected to be confirmed as the new H1N1 influenza.
"I expect that there will be many more confirmed cases of H1N1," he said.
Kettner said the number of severely ill persons with flu-like symptoms is greater than what health officials would normally see in a typical flu season.
And, he said, Manitoba seems to be harder hit than other provinces.
"At this point in time, I'm not aware of rates of severe illness of this magnitude in other parts of Canada."
Yet, he stressed that only a tiny percentage -- maybe one in 5,000 -- of those who have likely been exposed to the H1N1 flu virus in Manitoba have become severely ill.
He estimated that perhaps five or 10 per cent of Manitobans have been exposed to H1N1 in the past six weeks.
"This isn't a cause for panic," Kettner said. "It's not a cause for really any change in the advice... If you're healthy and well it's perfectly fine to go to work, to stay at a hotel, to travel anywhere in Manitoba that you choose to for business or pleasure."
There have been no deaths reported yet in Manitoba as a result of H1N1.
On Monday, Quebec health officials reported the death of a woman over the age of 65. She is Canada's fourth H1N1 death. In Manitoba, the number of confirmed cases of H1N1 on Monday remained at 40. They come from six different health regions.
Kettner said the 26 people on ventilators in hospital are "very ill."
"Some of them have been on ventilators for several weeks... The pattern has been so far that many of these patients have required several weeks of intensive care before they have recovered."
He said that in the first week of June, the rate at which people became severely ill with what is suspected as H1N1 was far higher than it was in April or May.
More than half of those in intensive care are First Nations people -- status or non-status as well as Inuit. Several other ethnic or racial groups have also been affected including Caucasian, black and Filipino, Kettner said.
So far, unlike SARS, no one has become ill because they work in the health-care system, he said.
Jan Currie, vice-president of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said there are normally 30 to 35 people on ventilators in Winnipeg hospitals at any one time for a variety of reasons.
The 26 listed by Kettner are in addition to that, she said. The WRHA has acquired 15 extra ventilators and may defer non-urgent procedures that would normally require ICU care. It is also taking steps to provide enough support in intensive-care units and prioritizing patients for personal care home beds.
Meanwhile, the Public Health Agency of Canada has provided three epidemiologists to Manitoba to help assess the province's cases of flu-like illness.
Kettner said only two of the 26 persons in intensive care are of school age. He said there is no reason to recommend any school be closed due to H1N1, adding this would not stop kids from gathering and potentially spreading the virus.
Jim Wolfe, the federal regional director for First Nations and Inuit Health, said Ottawa is working with the province to ensure there are enough doctors and nurses in First Nations communities to deal with an outbreak.
THINK YOU HAVE THE FLU? Here's what you should do
What are the symptoms of H1N1?
The same as seasonal flu -- fever, cough, sneezing, aches and tiredness.
What should I do if I have flu-like symptoms?
Stay home from school or work while you are ill and limit contact with others to reduce the spread of infection. Cover a cough or sneeze by coughing or sneezing into your elbow or sleeve, and wash your hands often with soap and water.
Do I need to see a doctor?
Most Manitobans who become ill will experience mild cases of influenza. If you or someone in your care has a chronic condition, get help from your doctor. If you need advice or are concerned, contact your physician or phone Health Links at 788-8200.